Microsoft has recently shared a lot of details about the Xbox Series X. This includes a fresh look at how the console’s use of hardware accelerated DirectX ray tracing makes next-gen games look even better. Starting off with a definition: ray racing is essentially a technological framework that allows for improved lighting, shadows, and reflections. It also helps create more realistic-sounding audio. In short, it’s a way for developers to create “more physically accurate worlds,” according to Microsoft.
Microsoft says the Xbox Series X is the first-ever console to feature this kind of ray tracing, and it’s made possible thanks to the console’s custom GPU made in collaboration with AMD.
Will Tuttle of the Xbox Wire witnessed ray tracing on the Xbox Series X first-hand with Minecraft. Tuttle said the advancements that ray tracing offers were immediately obvious. “Shadows cast from objects soften or harden depending on how far away from the object you are, while lava gives off a warm orange glow that dissipates over distance and reflects off of minecart rails,” Tuttle said. “Even the moon casts its own rays, streaming down through cracks in the walls and reflecting off particles in the air.”
Additionally, ray tracing in Minecraft allows light to pass through transparent objects in a game and pick up the surrounding color and display it in a way that looks realistic. Ray tracing can also have a dramatic impact on how water looks.
“With ray tracing on, water was now fully transparent and allowed light from the moon to pass through it to the player underneath and realistically reflect off the seaweed swaying in the current,” Tuttle said. “It was really an impressive demo that brought what hardware accelerated DirectX Ray tracing in Minecraft could deliver to life in a way I never imagined.”
Tuttle went on to say Minecraft’s use of ray tracing “fundamentally” changes how Minecraft feels. You can see how the visuals compare by using the image slider tool above.
YouTuber Austin Evans was also invited to Microsoft’s headquarters to see the Xbox Series X and learn more about it, including its use of ray tracing. You can skip to around 2:40 in the video below to see Evans play Minecraft on Xbox Series X and show off its new visuals.
Ray tracing is also coming to the PC version of Minecraft. Once released, players can select ray tracing from the in-game settings menu. Players, of course, will also need a GPU that’s good enough to support ray tracing, as well as the latest driver from Nvidia. More details about ray tracing for Minecraft’s PC version can be found on Nvidia’s website.
Google to release tracking data to help policy-makers evaluate COVID-19 measures – KitchenerToday.com
Google will start releasing movement tracking reports in a bid to help public health officials determine how successful physical distancing measures have been in the effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
The international tech giant says it will compile aggregated and anonymized data to chart movement trends at retail and recreation spaces, groceries, pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces and residential areas.
The frequent reports won’t identify individual mobile devices, but will track fluctuations in the number of visits to each kind of space so politicians and public health leaders can assess whether work-from-home and physical distancing orders are working.
Google says the reports could help shape recommendations on business hours, inform delivery service offerings or indicate the need for more buses or trains, which would help people to stay further apart from one another.
Google will make the reports available in 131 countries and will offer both provincial and national breakdowns in Canada.
To maintain privacy, Google says it will only base the reports on users who have opted in to sharing their location history.
Zoom is a dumpster fire. Try these two alternatives for video meetings – Chrome Unboxed
We’re nearly one month into the pandemic that is responsible for millions of employees and students making the move to online work and learning. In that shift, no software has seen a rise in popularity as much a chat and video conferencing apps. As a matter of fact, Google Engineer Justin Uberti proposed that March 17th was very possibly the busiest day for video conferencing in history. The happy side of this story is that there is a bucket full of video meeting platforms out there that have allowed users to quickly and easily make this transition and do so at no cost. Many companies that offer chat software have gone so far as to up the features offered on their free tiers to make meetings more manageable and accessible. That’s especially important for students and consumers who are looking for alternatives for face-to-face meetups.
<!– –>If you have scrolled through Google News, Twitter, Facebook or any other site that “reports” current events, you have likely heard the name Zoom. The video meeting software company has seen an overnight explosion in its user-base thanks to its low barrier of entry, free plan and cross-platform capabilities. We at Chrome Unboxed have even shared a couple of articles on how to best use the chat software. According to a blog post from Zoom, their daily meeting numbers ballooned a whopping 2000% in March compared to December of 2019. More than 200 million free and paid meetings are taking place on a daily basis via Zoom. Sadly, we aren’t living in a perfect world and that truism applies just as much to software as it does anything.
As Zoom’s explosion in growth continues, so does a surmounting list of complaints against the chat software that range from exposed emails to unauthorized installations, stealing Windows credentials and let’s not forget about the absolutely horrid trend of “Zoombombing” that’s exposing our kids to garbage such as porn and uninvited chatroom guests with malicious intent. Now, I am not here to bash Zoom but the outlandish number of reports surrounding the security (or lack-there-of), privacy and grey areas surrounding Zoom’s ToS are enough to make me take pause before letting my kids hop on a video chat. I’ll save the rant for other bloggers but if you’d like to get an in-depth look at all of the questionable issues that Zoom is facing, The Verge’s Casey Newton penned a wonderful piece on the subject that points out exactly where Zoom went wrong and in Zoom’s defense, the CEO did just publish a massive blog post outlining a 90-day plan to improve the platform.
All that said, I am writing with the hopes of creating more awareness of some alternative tools that are available to users that present better security and a similar barrier to entry as Zoom. Both of these platforms have been around for a decade or more and offer cross-platform capability. Not only that, they come from companies that deal with enterprise-level security, (Which is what Zoom claimed they did but that wasn’t exactly true.) Here are two great alternatives to Zoom that will offer you a similar experience and allow you as many as 100 participants in a meeting and are completely free for most users.
<!– –>Haven’t heard that name in a while, have you? Yes, Microsoft’s messaging platform is alive and well and thank’s to the progressive web, you can use Skype on just about any device. With Skype’s “Meet Now” feature, you can even create a meeting and get your call up and running without an account or the need for your participants to log into anything. Simply create your meeting, share the link and users can join directly from the browser. On a Chromebook, you will get an error message that says Chrome OS can’t open the page. Dismiss the message and click Join as a guest. This room is fairly basic but you can share your screen which is mostly what users need right now. For more functionality, the host can sign up for a free Microsoft account and secure the chat by locking the room when all participants have arrived. Check out Skype at the link below. <!– –>
<!– –>A leader in enterprise network technology, Cisco Systems acquired WebEx in 2007 and since it has evolved into a powerful and versatile web conferencing platform. Currently, Cisco has opened the throttle on their freemium tier and users can connect to as many as 100 participants with no limits on meeting time. The free plan hosts a lot of other great features including cross-platform, browser-based meetings and call-in via VoIP.
- Up to 100 participants in each meeting (Up from 50)
- Meet as long as you want (Up from 40 min limit)
- Call-in for audio (in addition to existing VoIP capabilities)
- Unlimited number of meetings
- Desktop, application, file & whiteboard sharing options
- Video conferencing features
- Webex Teams collaboration features
- Mobile features
- Security features
- Online support
Cisco Webex<!– –>
The question was posed to me this morning, “would you used Zoom for a meeting today?” My answer is a hard no. That is not to say that I don’t believe that Zoom won’t get their house in order. I simply feel that there are better options available right now while they get their ducks in a row. Ask me again in three months and I have high hopes my answer will be different.
Featured image credit: DreamsTime
COVID-19: Here's how to boost your internet speed when everyone else is working from home – National Post
With #StayAtHome and social distancing now becoming a way of life, an increasing number of people are relying on the internet for work, education and entertainment. This has placed greater demand on our network infrastructure, reducing the bandwidth available for each user, and is leaving people frustrated at seemingly slow internet speeds.
While internet service providers may not be able to instantly respond to these changes, there are a few tricks you can use to boost your home internet’s speed.
Why is your internet slow?
There may be many reasons why your internet speed is slow. Internet use requires a reliable connection between your device and the destination, which may be a server that is physically located on the other side of the world.
Your connection to that server could pass through hundreds of devices on its journey. Each one of these is a potential failure, or weak point. If one point along this path isn’t functioning optimally, this can significantly affect your internet experience.
Web servers in particular are often affected by external factors, including Denial of Service (DOS) attacks, wherein an overload of traffic causes congestion in the server, and impedes proper functioning.
While you may not have control over these things from your home network, that doesn’t mean you don’t have options to improve your internet speed.
Wifi signal boost
The access point (wireless router) in your home network is used to connect your devices to your internet service provider. Most access points provide a wireless signal with limited channels, which can suffer interference from nearby signals, like your neighbour’s. A “channel” is a kind of virtual “pipe” through which data is transferred.
Although your devices are designed to avoid interference by switching channels automatically (there are usually 14 available), it may help to check your router settings, as some are set to a single channel by default. When trying different options to reduce interference, it’s advisable to select channels 1, 6 or 11 as they can help to minimise problems (for 2.4GHz wireless).
What else can you do?
There are further things you can try to improve your wifi signal. If your router supports 5GHz wifi signals, switching to this can provide a faster data rate, but over shorter distances. Reposition your router for best coverage (usually a central position).
The difference between 2.4GHz and 5GHz wifi signals is they have different data transmission speeds. While 5GHz can transfer data faster (with 23 available channels), 2.4GHz provides a wider range. If you want speed, go for 5GHz. For better coverage, choose 2.4GHz.
Some domestic appliances can cause interference with your router. It’s worth checking if using your microwave oven, cordless phone or baby monitor affects your connection, as they may be using the same frequency as your router.
Using a wifi extender can help with coverage by boosting or extending the signal.
Viruses and malware
To avoid computer viruses, make sure you regularly check for updates on your devices and use antivirus software. It’s also worth rebooting your router to clear specific malware (malicious software designed to damage your device or server), such as VPNFilter – a malware that infects more than half a million routers in more than 50 countries.
You should also check the following:
- does your router need to be replaced with a newer model? This may be the case if it has been used for many years. Newer models support enhanced functions and faster internet speeds
- is the firmware of your wireless router updated? You can do this by visiting the device manufacturer’s website. This will help fix problems and allow additional functionality. It’s unlikely this update is done automatically.
Planning your usage
If multiple people are streaming video at your home, which often requires ten times the daytime demand, a limited internet connection will soon be fully used.
Try to plan your and family members’ online activities around peak times. Before the pandemic hit, most internet usage was likely oriented around the early evenings, after close of business. With the shift to remote working and schooling, more internet access is likely during the day, with a 10% usage increase overall, and a 30% increase at peak times.
Outside your home, connectivity is likely to be on a “best effort” plan, which shares a fixed bandwidth with other users. In other words, your mobile internet bandwidth is shared with others in your area when they access the internet at the same time. A shared bandwidth results in slower individual speeds.
You can’t control how many people access the internet, but you can manage your own internet activity by downloading large files or content overnight, or outside of peak hours (when there is less traffic).
How to improve your ISP’s network issues
While you can try to fix issues and optimise the setup inside your home, unfortunately you can’t really influence network performance outside of it. Thus, contacting your internet service provider’s call centre and seeking support is your best option.
All of the above considered, it’s important to remember that when using the internet, we’re sharing a limited resource. Just like buying pasta or toilet paper, there are many who need it just as much as you, so use it wisely.
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