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PlayStation 5 v Xbox Scarlett: the next console war begins in 2020



Sony’s PS5 will have haptic feedback, while Microsoft’s competing console will have four times the power of Xbox One. Here’s how the two high-end machines compare

a woman wearing headphones plays a video game in a red-light saturated room
 Get ready for battle … Microsoft’s XBox and Sony’s PlayStation 5 are set to reach shops in autumn/winter 2020. Photograph: Kerkez/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The next console war has a start date – or at least a start period. Sony has announced that its next console, PlayStation 5 (PS5), will be launched next autumn/winter, putting it in direct competition with Microsoft’s forthcoming Xbox Scarlett, also due in time for the 2020 Christmas holiday period.

In post on the PlayStation site, Sony revealed that PS5 will have a new controller that replaces the current joypad’s rumble feature with more sensitive and contextual haptic feedback.

“With haptics, you truly feel a broader range of feedback,” Sony said. “Crashing into a wall in a race car feels much different than making a tackle on the football field. You can even get a sense for a variety of textures when running through fields of grass or plodding through mud.”

The console will also have “adaptive triggers” incorporated into the L2 and R2 trigger buttons. Developers will be able to program the resistance of the triggers so that players, “feel the tactile sensation of drawing a bow and arrow or accelerating an off-road vehicle through rocky terrain”. Microsoft is experimenting with a similar technology for its Scarlett controller.

This is not the only apparent similarity between the competing consoles. In April, Sony revealed that PS5 would feature an eight-core CPU based on the third generation of AMD’s Ryzen processors, as well as a custom graphics processor based on the AMD Navi family (a technology capable of real-time ray-tracing effects), and a solid state drive (SSD), which will mean the faster loading of games and in-game content, and may also allow more granular loading processes, so players can choose to install only a game’s multiplayer component, or its campaign. The machine will support 8K resolution displays and 120Hz screen refresh rates.

Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, showing off Project Scarlett at the E3 games expo in June
 Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, showing off Project Scarlett at the E3 games expo in June. Photograph: Casey Rodgers/Invision/AP

Meanwhile, Xbox Scarlett will also utilise the latest AMD Ryzen processor and Navi graphics chipset; it will support screen resolutions of up to 8K and 120Hz refresh rates, and it will use an SSD rather than a traditional hard-disc drive. In addition, Scarlett is set to offer backwards compatibility for all Xbox One games as well as the Xbox and Xbox 360 titles that are available via Xbox One’s backward compatibility feature.Advertisement

Little else is known about the machines. Sony has spoken about PS5’s 3D audio capabilities, using a custom AMD sound chip to create incredibly immersive effects. In an interview with Wired, system architect Mark Cerny claimed the PlayStation user interface is getting a complete overhaul, and will show games information such as multiplayer activities and forthcoming mission objectives while players browse the menu.

Virtual reality will also be supported on PS5, at first via the current PlayStation VR headset, but later through a new headset, which is rumoured to support eye-tracking technology and may be wireless. Microsoft has not announced VR or augmented reality tech for Scarlett, but in the summer, rumours surfaced that the machine might be compatible with the Oculus Rift S gaming headset, currently available for PC.

It is unclear how the machines’ online multiplayer services will evolve for the next generation. Sony is likely to overhaul its PlayStation Now streaming game service, while Microsoft has its Xbox Game Pass equivalent. Rumours of an Xbox console that uses Microsoft’s cloud-based gaming service have been denied by the company.

As for Nintendo, the Switch console is only two years into its lifecycle, so a successor is unlikely to be released next year. However, rumours persist that the company is planning to release an updated and more powerful version of the Switch – known as Switch 2 or Switch Pro on tech sites – featuring an updated processor.

In an entertainment market dominated by streaming platforms and services, where everyone is looking for the next equivalent to Netflix or Spotify, it will be interesting to see how two specialist high-end machines fare, especially with Google Stadia (out in November) and Apple Arcade (launched in September), looking to entice more casual players.


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Physicists Just Smashed an Insane Record of Particle Acceleration in a Plasma Channel




In a breathtaking achievement, physicists have shattered the world record for particle acceleration. In just 20 centimetres (8 inches), they have increased the acceleration of electron beams from 0 to a whopping 7.8 billion electron volts (GeV).

This nearly doubles the team’s previous energy gain of 4.2 GeV over 9 centimetres, demonstrating a way to vastly improve plasma wakefield acceleration.

High energy particle accelerators are vital for better understanding the particles our Universe is made of, but they also have some pretty hefty limitations, especially in terms of size and cost. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) consists of a vacuum tunnel buried deep underground, with a circumference of 26.7 kilometres (16.6 mi).

Along the tunnel, metallic chambers are spaced at intervals to generate radiofrequency waves, which transfer energy to the particles passing by to give them a velocity boost, with each radiofrequency chamber delivering an accelerating field of 5 million volts per metre (5MV/m) to ultimately deliver speeds close to that of light in a vacuum.

Last year, physicists at CERN announced that, using a developing technology called plasma wakefield acceleration, they’d achieved an acceleration gradient of 200 MV/m. That resulted in an acceleration to nearly 2 GeV in 10 metres.

It works just like wakesurfing. Laser pulses are used to generate plasma waves with electromagnetic fields that can be thousands of times stronger than radiofrequency fields. Then, just as a wakesurfer can use the waves generated in the wake of a boat to accelerate, particles can ‘surf’ the plasma waves to gain energy.

To improve on this, physicists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory designed and incorporated a plasma waveguide. These, the researchers wrote in their paper, “can be used to mitigate laser diffraction of focused laser pulses, which increases the acceleration length and the energy gain for a given laser power.”

This work was the achievement behind the previous 4.2 GeV result in 2014; now, the team has improved on their methods.

In a sapphire tube filled with gas, an electrical discharge is triggered to create plasma. Then, a “heater” laser pulse is used to drill out some of the gas from the centre of the plasma, lowering the density, which focuses the laser light.

This plasma channel is then strong enough to keep the laser pulses confined over the length of the accelerator. Subsequent “driver” laser pulses generate waves in the plasma. Electrons in the plasma then hitch a ride, surfing the length of the sapphire tube.

In the previous experiment, the density of the plasma caused the laser to lose its focus along the length of capillary, resulting in damage to the sapphire tube.

“The heater beam allowed us to control the propagation of the driver laser pulse,” said physicist  Anthony Gonsalves of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“The next experiments will aim to gain precision control over electron injection into the plasma wave for achieving unprecedented beam quality, and to couple multiple stages together to demonstrate the path to even higher energy.”

The research will be presented at the 61st Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics this week, and appeared in Physical Review Letters earlier this year.


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Apple’s iOS 13 is running on 50 percent of all iPhones after three weeks




Apple’s iOS 13 update may have been riddled with bugs over the course of its first few weeks post-release, but that hasn’t had a meaningful impact on user adoption. According to the company, more than 50 percent of all iPhones were running iOS 13 just 26 days after launch. That’s slower than iOS 12, which took just 23 days to hit 50 percent, but not by much. If you count only iPhones purchased in the last four years, the figure jumps up to 55 percent.

The numbers look even better — vis a vis Android — when you take into account that most other phones are running iOS 12. Of all iPhones currently accessing the App Store, which is how Apple checks these numbers, 41 percent are using iOS 12 and just 9 percent are using an earlier mobile OS. For devices four years old and younger, 38 percent are running iOS 12 and just 7 percent are running an older OS. For iPadOS, the numbers are slightly lower, with 33 percent of all iPads running the new OS and 41 percent of newer iPads running it.

While these adoption rates may have slowed from last year, Apple is still miles ahead of Google in this regard, thanks to its tight integration of hardware and software that Google has never been able to replicate with Android. In fact, Google seems to have stopped reporting adoption rates recently, so we don’t know how many devices have Android 10 installed.

Last time Google checked in on that front, in May of this year, we knew that Android 9 Pie was installed on just 10.4 percent of all Android devices worldwide. For other versions, the rate spans spans 15 percent to 30 percent for versions as far back as Android 5.0 Lollipop, which is still running on 14.5 percent of all Android phones. At the time, Android 8.0 Oreo held the crown at the time with 27 percent of all devices. But the wide variety of years-old versions each serving millions upon millions of phones remains a bad look for Android fragmentation, a problem Google has all but given up on solving.

So whatever trepidation Apple fans may have had about the bugs and overall inconsistency with iPhone software, it doesn’t seem to have translated into action. As The Verge’s Dieter Bohn points out in his piece about holding off on installing macOS Catalina, he makes the smart point that phone updates are low risk and high reward, whereas the same is not true of desktop and laptop OS updates, where you may inadvertently affect your ability to get real work done. Looks like most iPhone owners agree.


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How 5G could improve augmented reality




We all know by now that 5G is going to be a big deal. The next generation mobile network will provide ubiquitous gigabit connection speeds, extremely low latency and unrestricted capacity.

In fact, it’s rather difficult to imagine a modern industry that won’t be positively affected by 5G’s arrival.

When it comes to augmented reality, however, 5G looks set to be more transformational than most. Indeed, 5G could prove instrumental to augmented reality finally hitting the mainstream.

Let’s first clarify what we mean when we talk about ‘augmented reality’. AR, as it’s commonly known as, is the art and science of overlaying virtual information onto a live view of the real world.

While virtual reality (VR) creates a completely enclosed, self-contained 3D virtual world that a person can fully immerse themselves in, AR seeks to enhance or indeed augment our perception of the physical environment around us.

Augmented reality is already firmly embedded in our culture, from the heads-up displays (HUDs) in a fighter pilot’s cockpit to the live selfie effects of Snapchat and Facebook. But 5G’s arrival heralds a whole new wave of deeply integrated, highly social AR experiences.

Statista estimates that the value of the AR market will rise from $5.91 billion in 2018 to $198.17 billion in 2025 – it’s no coincidence that this rise will coincide with the rollout of 5G networks.

Augmenting reality

As we’ve hinted at already, augmented reality isn’t a new or cutting edge technology. We already have the means to create convincing AR experiences, but it’s an extremely hardware-intensive process.

Embedding virtual components in a real world view requires powerful processors, sharp cameras, a range of advanced sensors, and some serious software smarts. In short, the best AR apps crunch a lot of numbers.

What’s more, that data needs to be rendered in real time in order to produce a convincingly smooth and responsive AR experience. Immersion is everything with AR, to the point where any performance shortfall can be ruinous to the experience.

The huge amount of data being processed in real time means that modern mobile AR applications are very localized, essentially ‘offline’ affairs. Not only does this necessitate powerful mobile devices, it limits the scope of the AR experiences too.

Our current 4G networks simply don’t have the capacity to bear the weight of more connected or shared AR experiences, nor do they have the required low latency – that is, the time between an input and data being sent in response – for real time responsiveness.

What 5G brings to the AR table

It’s here that 5G will be able to take AR to the next level. The next generation mobile network will massively increase capacity and lower latency. ABI Research predicts that 5G will provide a “10X increase in throughput, 10X decrease in latency, and 100X increase in traffic capacity” over 4G, which will mean that “5G will not only improve, but will also be a requirement for some of the most exciting AR and VR applications”.

In such an environment, existing AR applications would be able to offload much of the intensive processing to the cloud, opening AR applications out to new, smaller, more energy efficient and cheaper form factors.

While the Google Glass project appeared to be halted several years ago (it wasn’t, but we’ll come to that), the prospect of a truly wearable, permanently accessible AR device hasn’t gone away. It was just hibernating until the technology could be refined, part of which involves a sufficiently capable mobile network.

The nature of AR applications will also grow more sophisticated, with truly shared and social real time augmented reality experiences. The transmitting of AR-enhanced live events could be one example.

This synergy between AR and 5G will also expand the potential for remote control drone and robot operation through enhanced HUDs (Heads Up Displays) and improved haptic feedback. Indeed, this lofty concept of the so-called ‘Tactile Internet’ is expected to kickstart the fourth industrial revolution.

That might sound lofty, but cutting edge researchers such as South Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute predict just such an eventuality. In January 2019, it was announced that ETRI had developed a 5G-based technology that would enable AR applications to send and receive packets of data at speeds that match human perception.

“We will see robots, cars and all other machines connected to the Internet all around us,” said ETRI team leader HwanSeok Chung. “[The] Tactile Internet will enable humans and machines to interact with each other even from far away.”

AR and you

Talk of the Tactile Internet is all well and good, but you might ask how 5G-enhanced augmented reality is set to benefit the average user over the coming years.

The first thing to note is that the framework is there for massive advances in everyday AR applications. Both Google and Apple, gatekeepers to the two biggest smartphone platforms in the world, are investing heavily in AR. Apple announced its ARKit framework in June 2017, while Google announced its own ARCore in August 2017.

AR computation has been a core component of two generations of iOS and Android devices now, and there are countless AR-enhanced applications on their respective platforms. But the two companies have huge plans beyond the current status quo.

It’s widely expected that Apple will have some big things to say about AR at its next WWDC event from June 3, including potential macOS and iOS support for AR headsets. 

It’s long been rumored that Apple is working on its own set of AR glasses, which could prove a huge boost to AR’s mainstream acceptance. You only need to see the company’s dramatic effect on the adoption of smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches for evidence of that.

For its part, Google has been steadily ticking over in the background with its pioneering Google Glass project after an initial failed public run. The latest update comes in the form of the business-focused Glass Enterprise Edition 2, which now runs on Android and is powered by Qualcomm’s AR-focused XR1 chipset. 

On the software front, the company announced at Google I/O that it was adding 3D augmented reality models to its search results later this year.

Separately to this, Facebook is known to be investing heavily in augmented reality. Having played a major part in the related resurgence of VR through its Oculus Rift platform, the company is known to be working on its own advanced AR glasses. 

Facebook has also been steadily bringing AR features to its vast network of social platform ever since 2017, from Messenger to Instagram to Facebook ads. Through AR Studio, it’s also allowing third parties to get in on the act.

Microsoft has its own longstanding AR hardware project in the form of HoloLens, which has yielded some of the most impressive (though alas not commercially available) AR applications of the current era – including an augmented reality version of Minecraft. 

Talking of Minecraft and AR, Microsoft recently announced the Minecraft Earth mobile game, which could well prove to be the true breakout moment for AR gaming.

Make no mistake, AR is set to enter a whole new phase of mainstream acceptance in industry, on our phones, and through a whole new class of personal devices – and 5G is going to be at the very heart of the revolution.

5G Uncovered, in association with Samsung, brings you everything you need to know about the next wave of connectivity – not just how fast it’s going to be, but in just how many ways it’s going to change your life. Our 5G Uncovered hub is carefully curated to show everything there is to know about the next generation of connection.   


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