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Information about Intel's next-generation processor architecture, codenamed Haswell, has been leaking steadily for some time, but presentations at today's Intel Developer Forum (IDF) are finally giving us details on what to expect from the fourth-generation Core processors when they launch in 2013.

Haswell is a "tock", in Intel parlance—a completely new processor architecture manufactured using the same 22nm process and "3D" tri-gate transistors as Ivy Bridge. As with Ivy Bridge, the bulk of Intel's attentions are focused on improving graphics performance and reducing power consumption—while Haswell's optimizations will definitely make it faster than Ivy Bridge at the same clock speeds, CPU performance definitely took a back seat during Intel's Haswell-oriented keynote today.

The CPU: modest improvements in a power-efficient package

Much about Haswell's architecture is similar to Ivy Bridge in many ways: key technologies like Turbo Boost and Hyperthreading are still in play, and the instruction pipeline and L1 and L2 cache sizes remain the same.

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When I wrote about TN LCD panels 5 years ago, I considered them acceptable, despite their overall mediocrity, mostly due to the massive price difference.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of LCDs on the market now are TN. You can opt to pay a little bit more for one of the few models with *VA – if there are any available in the size you want. *-IPS is widely considered the best all around LCD display technology, but it is rapidly being pushed into the vertical "pro" graphics designer market due to the big jump in price. It's usually not an option, unless you're willing to pay more than twice as much for a monitor.

But when the $499 iPad 3 delivers an amazingly high resolution IPS panel that's almost reference quality, I found myself a whole lot less satisfied with the 27" TN LCDs on my desktop. And on my laptop. And everywhere else in my life.

I'll spare you all the exposition and jump to the punchline. I am now the proud owner of three awesome high resolution (2560x1440) 27" IPS LCDs, and I paid less than a thousand dollars for all three of them.

Three Korean LCDs

(If you're curious about the setup, I use Ergotron monitor arms to fit everything in there.)

I won't deny that it is a little weird, because everything is in Korean. I replaced the Korean 3 prong power cord in the power brick with a regular US power cord I had laying around. But a monitor is a monitor, and the IPS panel is stunning. The difference between TN and IPS is vast in every measurable dimension. No bad pixels on these three panels, either. Although, as my friend Scott Wasson of Tech Report fame says, "every pixel on a TN panel is a bad pixel".

How is this possible? You can thank Korea. All three of these monitors were ordered from Korean eBay vendors, where a great 27" IPS LCD goes for the equivalent of around $250 in local currency. They tack on $100 for profit and shipping to the USA, then they're in business. It's definitely a grey market, but something is clearly out of whack, because no domestic monitor of similar quality and size can be had for anything under $700.

I wanted to get this out there, because I'm not sure how long this grey market will last, and these monitors are truly incredible deals. Heck, it's worth it just to get out of the awful TN display ghetto most of us are stuck in. Scott Wasson got the exact same model of Korean LCD I did, and his thorough review concludes:

Even with those last couple of quirks uncovered, I still feel like I won this thing in a drawing or something. $337 for a display of this quality is absolutely worth it, in my view. You just need to keep your eyes open to the risks going into the transaction, risks I hope I've illustrated in the preceding paragraphs. In many ways, grabbing a monitor like this one on the cheap from eBay is the ultimate tinkerer's gambit. It's risky, but the payoff is huge: a combination of rainbow-driven eye-socket ecstasy and the satisfying knowledge that you paid less than half what you might pay elsewhere for the same experience.

There are literally dozens of variants of these Korean 27" LCDs, but the model I got is the FSM-270YG. Before you go rushing off to type ebay.com in your browser address bar, remember that these are bare-bones monitors being shipped from Korea. They work great, don't get me wrong, but they are the definition of no-frills:

  • Build quality is acceptable, but it's hardly Jony Ive Approved™.
  • These are glossy panels. Some other variants offer matte, if that's your bag.
  • They only support basic dual-link DVI inputs, and nothing, I mean nothing else.
  • There is no on-screen display. The only functional controls are power and brightness (this one caught me out; you must hold down the brightness adjustment for many, many seconds before you see a change.)

Although the noise-to-signal ratio is off the charts, it might be worth visiting the original overclock.net thread on these inexpensive Korean monitors. There's some great info buried in there, if you can manage to extract it from the chaos. And if you're looking for a teardown of this particular FSM-270YG model (minus the OSD, though), check out the TFT Central review.

In the past, I favored my wallet over my eyes, and chose TN. I now deeply regret that decision. But the tide is turning, and high quality IPS displays are no longer extortionately expensive, particularly if you buy them directly from Korea. Is it a little risky? Sure, but all signs point to the risk being fairly low.

In the end, I decided my eyes deserve better than TN. Maybe yours do too.

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Fujifilm X-Pro1 hero (1024px)

Fujifilm has a history of making beautiful cameras, particularly in its X series. The X100 and X10 are more than just pretty faces, too — both deliver gorgeous pictures and video. They're designed more as companions to a DSLR rather than your one and only camera, though, and the entry price is high for that kind of camera. In January at CES, Fujifilm stole the show by releasing a camera that could be your one and only: the X-Pro1, which pairs the company's flair for retro design with interchangeable lenses.

Technically speaking, there's a lot to like about the camera in addition to its lens mount or its good looks: a 16-megapixel APS-C X-Trans sensor that Fujifilm claims could rival many full-frame DSLRs, ISO range up to ISO 25,600, a...

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I've tried watching movies, but they were too distracting. I do enjoy listening to music while programming too, but have found something better. I love listening to audiobooks as I'm programming. I found that I'm able to focus on both perfectly with the exception of writing/reading more that a few sentences of text. If I need to read or write something I will just pause and then play after I'm done. I think that the left/logical side of my brain can focus on the code while the right/creative can focus on the audiobook without any interference. I'm really curious as to if anyone else has tried this.

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The AllWinner A10 Android 4.0 mini PC

CNX Software

Chinese retailers have started selling a miniature Linux computer that is housed in a 3.5-inch plastic case slightly larger than a USB thumb drive. Individual units are available online for $74.

The small computer has an AllWinner A10 single-core 1.5GHz ARM CPU, a Mali 400 GPU, and 512MB of RAM. An HDMI port on the exterior allows users to plug the computer into a television. It outputs at 1080p and is said to be capable of playing high-definition video.

The device also has a full-sized USB port with host support for input devices, a conventional micro-USB port, a microSD slot, and an internal 802.11 b/g WiFi antenna. The computer can boot from a microSD card and is capable of running Android 4.0 and other ARM-compatible Linux platforms.

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Canonical has announced a new product called Ubuntu for Android that will bring the popular Linux distribution to high-end Android smartphones. The product consists of a complete Ubuntu desktop experience that is intended to be installed on the device alongside the standard Android environment.

Users will be able to run Ubuntu from their phone when they plug the device into a dock that connects to a keyboard and monitor. The underlying concept is similar to that of the WebTop environment that Motorola ships on the Atrix handset and other devices.

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For years, since the launch of Ableton Live, many have waited for a worthy rival, something that combines production and live performance for music users. Live isn’t without alternatives – Renoise, for instance, has earned some fans, though it isn’t necessarily built for live performance. But few provide the same real-time workflows.

Bitwig, based in Berlin as is Ableton and featuring some Abletronic veterans, today took the wraps off its own Bitwig Studio. The good news is, it’s looking as though it might shape up to be a viable tool for DJing, performing, and making music. The bad news is, in a market already crowded with lots of similar tools vying for your attention, the first release will look more familiar than radical. That is, it looks and works a whole lot like Live. There’s an Arranger view, a clip launching view with scenes, a tray on the bottom with effects and instruments (they’re even called Devices, like in Live). The screen layout, and even specific interface widgets and channel strip arrangements are all straight out of Live.

It’s not just a little like Ableton Live, either – it’s in some cases a direct clone. Nested drum machine Devices, for instance, work in a way that I’ve never seen out of Ableton Live. A channel strip similarity or two is almost inevitable; here, though, lots of little details add up to something that feels like Ableton, but didn’t come from Ableton.

What that means to you may depend on what you want: whether you just want an improved Ableton alternative that works like Live, or whether you want something more fundamentally different from Live as an alternative.

If you want “Ableton Plus,” Bitwig does take on features Ableton is missing. For instance:

1. Linux support. In fact, right out of the gate, this could quickly be the answer for Linux users waiting for something they could use without booting to Mac or Windows.
2. Proper multiple document support. You can share content between projects in Ableton, but here you can actually open and freely exchange media with multiple files at once.
3. Mix audio and MIDI on the same track. Tracks are content-agnostic.
4. Per-note automation, with the mixed MIDI and audio, promises more detail-oriented editing.

Those are three significant breakthroughs. And it looks like there are lots of tweaks and improvements throughout the tool, many of which I’m sure we’ll hear about as people begin testing the beta. (One nice example: a vertical pane lets you view arrange and clip launching views simultaneously.) Multi-monitor support, while present in many tools, is sorely lacking in Live but available here. Plus, as some readers note, you do get 64-bit support, though that seems an advantage over Ableton that won’t last long.

The challenge is, as a new entrant to the market, your first obstacle is telling a story about what you are. And here, there seems a missed opportunity to make a first impression as something truly different, rather than something “similar, but better.” Ableton Live 1.0 when it was released was a significant departure from what had been seen before. So, too, were the first trackers, the first audio+MIDI DAWs, and the first graphical sequencers. Bitwig Studio isn’t that kind of breakthrough – not yet.

Not that being different is easy, or even always desirable. Amidst so many things users want, and so many expectations they have about how things will work, it’s tough to do something genuinely new without simply confusing everyone and driving them away. But it has happened – Ableton Live’s original release being a notable case. One question is whether you make some sacrifices to release the most significantly-different tools initially, or whether you choose to cover the basic bases to provide a workable solution from day one, and the Bitwig devs seem to have chosen the latter.

The most interesting features remain on the horizon. LAN multi-user jamming and multi-user production are both on the roadmap – features we’ve seen in other tools, but which have yet to catch on. And there’s an integrated modular system that lets you build your own instruments and effects with graphical patching – something seen in various forms from Buzz to Max for Live, but one that could use a fresh take in integration with the tool.

In the meantime, we’ll have to hear from beta users whether Bitwig is something worth a look. You can sign up now:
http://bitwig.com/bitwig_studio.php

We’ll be eager to hear what you think.

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