Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Google Stadia - Cloud’s the Limit


Google has just thrown their infinity gauntlet into the ring, specifically calling out PC, PS4 and the Xbox by name. To be fair, if anyone has a chance of standing up to them, it’d have to be a megacorp like Google, the people that already own all your info and browsing history. And why not? Sony was initially laughed at when they first pitched the Playstation around as an idea.

This isn’t the first time a cloud-based game streaming service has claimed to be the next big thing. Nvidia has tried this before with the Shield, and are about to give it another shot with newer hardware and then there was the ill-fated Onlive which ended up being bought out by Sony and integrated into PS Now. In Japan, Nintendo has cloud streaming on the Switch; running Resident Evil 7 and Assassins Creed: Origins.


Unlike these services that are still hardware reliant, Stadia (which is a really stupid name) will be fully run via 4500+ dedicated Google data centres around the world straight to any device, there’s no external box needed, meaning there is less interference for the signal to have to travel through. The fewer things a signal needs to jump through, the less lag is going to be an issue. Multiplayer could run on the same data centres, no more need for servers, eliminating the time it takes for all players systems to talk to one another. Everyone would already be connected, kind of like Lan but without the miles of cables snaking around the house. On top of this, it’s possible to use most current gaming controllers you may have laying around but Google’s own controller, that looks like a bad Switch pro pad and has an awful looking D-Pad, has built-in WiFi that connects straight to the same data centre to further cut out any input latency.

Games will load instantly. No install, no updates required. They just launch straight from the YouTube Client, be it a PC via browser, tablet, phone or even a Tv (using a Chromecast HDMI streamer). It’s then possible to switch what device you’re playing on and pick up right where you left off, seamlessly. Google already has many of the big name studios working to get their games running on the Stadia. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey was the main showpiece and id software have Doom Eternal running at 4k60 after just two weeks of work. Not only that, Google revealed their own Game studio, Stadia Games and Entertainment, headed by Jade Raymond (the producer behind Assassin’s Creed 1+2) but didn’t have any games to show at this time.


Google “promise” that at launch the Stadia service will be capable of targeting 4k at 60 frames per second and is future proofed for 8k at 120fps and upgradable beyond this when needed. I find this hard to believe as Google have trouble getting YouTube to stream at a proper 1080p, let alone 4k and their video compression doesn’t do content any favours either. Just look at the newest Unity tech demo to see how YouTube's compression can kill a video. Those poor crushed dark areas. Even Netflix only “targets” 1080p but is more likely to be closer to 720-900p. A lot of this is all very bandwidth dependent and relies on a consistent speed and connection rates, and right now I’m just not sure much of the world is up for this. Here in England, most of the country has access to fairly decent internet speeds but even in somewhere like America, unless you’re living in one of the big cities, a good broadband speed is hard to come by and much more expensive and with data caps. To receive 1080p60 the recommended speed is 25mps, that's eating a lot of data, fast. In four or five years however, when providers have got their act together and stopped ripping off their customers, streaming could well be a legitimate way to play.


Personally, I’m sceptical but very interested and still have many questions. The price of entry being the main one. Assuming it’s a subscription-based system are there multiple tiers for better quality gaming and how much are compression, artifacting, graphics settings, textures, scaling and resolution affected by bandwidth? Things like game mods will also be out of the question as you never have the files to tinker with. Not sure pc players could go back to vanilla Skyrim.

Google has more to reveal in the summer, so hopefully, this is all laid out than before the Stadia is set to launch later this year.


Bry Wyatt

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Monday, 18 March 2019

Samsung Galaxy M Series ★★★☆☆


Samsung's latest budget offerings are the M10 & M20 phones launching in India this week. Whilst reviewing the M20, I'll also be comparing it to the M10. Both the M series phones look & feel very different from any of the previous Samsung phones.  Plastic build with a glossy finish, “Infinity-V” dew drop notch and a massive battery are the features that are most noticeable. 

Both phones are dual SIM VoLTE enabled & have extra storage option available. The M20 has a 5000mAh battery & M10 has a 3400mAh one, both of which work pretty well, support fast charging, and last almost an entire day considering the massive 6.3” screens. Thankfully both variants still sport the 3.5mm jack, although there are no earphones bundled in the box.  

The major difference in the 2 variants, besides the battery size, is the missing Type C Charging port (has a micro USB) & fingerprint sensor on the cheaper M10 model. The Exynos 7904 CPU on the M20 is a new launch from Samsung and very similar to the Snapdragon 600 series of processors. 3GB RAM & 32GB storage or 4GB RAM & 64GB storage are 2 options available in the M20 with a colour choice of Ocean Blue or Charcoal Black.


The M20s dual rear camera setup has a 13MP & 5MP lens while the front is an 8MP shooter. The camera app is similar to what you see in most Samsung phones, with fast focusing speed. This is perhaps the first time ever the image and photo quality disappointed me on a Samsung device. They look decent on the phone but once you see them on a big screen the fine details were lost & it looked grainy. Low light shots were poor and looked blurry. Surprisingly, Live Focus mode for Bokeh effects, works only on a face and not on objects. Video recording maxes out at 1080p.

Device security includes Facial Recognition, which is a bit slow but more useful since the fingerprint sensor is not easily accessible on the 6.5” body when using the phone in one hand.
Overall usage does not show any lag and games run smoothly even with multiple apps open in the background. 

On the software front, both devices run on last year's Android Oreo 8.1 with Experience UI, possibly an update to Pie later this year & Samsung's own One UI. A huge turn off is the number of Ads placed on the lock screen and constant notifications coming from the My Galaxy app. This can only be disabled by selecting “wallpapers” on the lock screen rather than “wallpaper and stories”.

With the Galaxy M series, Samsung is challenging Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro, Asus Zenfone Pro M2, RealMe U1 all of which have some features better than the M20.
Both phones could've done a better job. 

★★★☆☆
Pritesh Khilnani



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