Mozilla Firefox to block 3rd party cookies

IAB 2013-04-16_1434

If you are an owner of a blog and you try to monetize it you won’t be happy about an upcoming feature of Firefox that Mozilla will introduce in version 22. Mozilla will block 3rd party cookies that are used by most banner ads. The Do-Not-Track signal will be also turned on by default. The IAB, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has put up a petition against this. I encourage you to sign it!

http://www.iab.net/mozilla_petition/

TVPeCee HDMI-Stick MMS-874 Android Mini-Computer

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Downloading Xvid movies via Torrent or some other P2P network is out. Not even Peerblockers with blacklists of honeypots can protect users anymore (more: http://torrentfreak.com/anti-piracy-blocklists-dont-keep-bittorrent-spies-out-120904/). Today you can “rent” movies online for a few Euro (or Dollar) on most platforms like consoles, video-on-demand boxes by your ISP or other vendors, Smart TVs, Notebooks, Tablets, Barebones, HTPCs and even mobile phones. You can also watch a wide range of movies via Web-Streaming i.e. from YouTube or other sites via Flash, HTML5 or native apps.

The problem with most platforms is that still most video streaming content on the web is Flash-based. That’s where most of the platforms fail… for instance the Internet Explorer for the Xbox 360 (that requires Gold membership BTW) doesn’t show Flash, Apple TV wouldn’t even dare to show Flash, ARM-based Raspberry Pi would be cool enough but there is no Flash player for the Linux and the browser running on it. So what to do if your TV is not “smart” (Internet connected) yet or Flash-enabled? Of course you can connect your Notebook or Tablet via HDMI to your TV, use some Air-Play service or buy a Barebone-PC or HTPC but I was looking for a cheap convenient and noiseless Always-On solution. What could be better for that than an Operating System and CPU (more a SoC) of a mobile phone? Android runs Flash too! Although any new updates or versions won’t be released for it the old version is good enough for most Flash video content on the web.

I decided to try out such a device that you connect via HDMI to your TV. First I ordered the MMS 864 TVPeCee that turned out to be a total disaster. It has a slow single-core ARM, runs Android 4.0 with an ugly custom UI, doesn’t play Flash in full screen and has black screens from time to time. The successor model the MMS 874 with Android 4.1 cures all those weaknesses though!

The MMS 874 has a fast dual-core CPU and a quad-core GPU that is on the level of the Galaxy Nexus performance wise (more: http://www.androidbenchmark.net/phone.php?phone=Rockchip+MMS-874.dualcore), runs the vanilla Android UI, shows Flash in full screen and has better passive cooling. See full specs here: http://www.pearl.de/a-ZX1005-1602.shtml (German). I extended the device with  a 16 GB microSDHC memory card, an USB hub, a wireless keyboard and a gamepad. This way the device becomes a console too as many games support a gamepad on Android (more: http://www.jayceooi.com/2012/09/11/android-games-with-native-gamepad-support/).

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For about 150 Euro (including all peripherals) you get a nice Android Mini-Computer that can be used to stream videos, play games, check social networks etc. on your TV screen . It’s noiseless compared to some fan-equipped PC-Barebones, not bound to any video platform like the Apple TV with iTunes Store or any ISP video-on-demand box and relatively cheap compared to consoles, PC-Barebones or HTPCs. Forget about Google TV or this Air-Play black ball device (Nexus Q) they tried to release… Vanilla Android is more than enough to make your TV “smart” and connected.

The future of the PC

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The machine on the photo above is my current PC. An AMD FX-6300@4,5GHz with 16GB RAM, Radeon HD 6870, Samsung 128GB 840 SSD, 1TB HDD and a case with 5x 120mm fans… but this desktop computer running Windows 7, built for optimal gaming performance and value, is a dinosaur. The desktop PC era is coming to an end and the big players in the PC world understood it. The Home Personal Computer that had a specific immobile place in your apartment or house is dead. Most people use notebooks, tablets, smart phones or video game consoles for media and content consumption as well as social actives. Microsoft made the bold move with Windows 8 and hardware makers along with chip makers like Intel and AMD try to adapt to the new situation. CPUs tend to become System-On-Chips integrating  GPUs even in the x86 world as they would try to copy ARM, the dominant architecture for mobile chips. For home consumers I think the Windows x86 PC will survive as a hybrid tablet and Microsoft did a good job so far in initiating this transition. They killed the desktop user interface along with the task bar and the start button and adapted Windows to work with a touch interface. Not many people know but Microsoft was behind the design of most first generation Windows 8 Tablet hardware along with releasing their own reference device, the Surface RT and Surface Pro (more info: http://news.cnet.com/8301-10805_3-57561849-75/how-microsoft-became-a-control-freak-with-tablet-makers/).

The big question is if corporations will adapt to Windows 8. I talked with the IT support folks in my company and none of them can imagine using Windows 8 in the corporate environment. There is also a funny video about an admin reacting to Windows 8 on YouTube:

Everyone who is into content creation, will it be image or video/audio editing, print layout (aka DTP), web design or programming, won’t give up a mouse and a desktop user interface designed for it. No matter if on a Windows 7 PC, Linux PC, or Mac Pro or even a Notebook/Ultrabook or MacBook Pro/iMac/Mac mini. All of them are designed to be used with a track-pad or mouse. OK, it’s possible to do some nice content creation with touch and there are some cool Apps but I feel they are still toys compared to the mature software packages used on desktop machines. Also the classic office application suite is difficult to use on touch and you need also a wireless printer even though I reckon Microsoft did a good job with Office 2013. For typing a physical keyboard is a must but most Windows 8 tablets are hybrids anyway. It’s understandable why Microsoft want’s to keep this exclusive to Windows 8 and is not releasing an iOS Office version (more: http://www.zdnet.com/why-ballmer-doesnt-want-office-on-the-ipad-7000010566/). So the problem of Windows 8 is the hardware but it’s about innovative corporate hardware!

The following article by a professional analyst comes to the same conclusion more or less: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9236658/If_the_PC_dies_Windows_8_will_be_its_killer_says_analyst

So far I didn’t see many corporate hardware concepts for Windows 8 that are compelling enough but the ones that are our there come surprisingly from Dell (yes, the company that went private lately). It seems that most hardware makers like Lenovo with the Yoga 13 forgot to release a docking station. In my option an essential piece of hardware making life easier in a corporate environment is a docking station (or do you want to plug in your keyboard, mouse, wired network and monitor each time?). Windows 8 has multi-monitor support so such a configuration can work pretty well in my option (more: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2012/05/21/enhancing-windows-8-for-multiple-monitors.aspx).

Latitude10_dock_image

Another concept that makes sense is a kind of stand for the tablet that connects keyboard and mouse wireless.

tablet-docking-station

Of course you could tilt a touch PC like this Dell and use it in a kind of Star Trek Geordi La Forge manner by typing and touching the interface.

w8hw3a_medium-1

My advice to Microsoft would be to release a set of Windows 8 (or Windows Blue by that time) reference devices similar to the Surface Pro especially optimized for the office corporate environment and content creation. The Surface Pro is a good start but more has to follow and most importantly those devices have to prove they improve efficiency similar to what is shown on the video below.

The state of Flash vs. HTML5

The debate about Flash vs. HTML5 began over two years ago. It all started with a public letter by Steve Jobs on April 2010: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/

Where are we today?

Flash is still the default technology for most content designed for PC-based consumption… Facebook and other browser games are Flash and web video is still Flash in most cases as well. Although YouTube supports HTML5 i.e. most sites still don’t offer it by default due to the mess around the video tag and codecs. On YouTube HTML5 is in testing stage an default off. The video encoding systems would need to encode each video at least twice to support most common browsers. Google announced o drop support for H.264 in Chrome but never did it. Mozilla announced support for native codecs installed on your machine including H.264 but didn’t implement this so far. All together H.264 is a bad idea as it’s not an open standard (more: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/bott/h-264-patents-how-much-do-they-really-cost/2122) but it would be a common standard at least between popular browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari. HTML5 lacks vital technologies like adaptive streaming (live content), content protection (for premium content) and playback locking (for advertising) . Some serious work needs to be done to get this right  (more recent info: http://www.longtailvideo.com/html5).

Mobile:

On mobile Flash is dead and users suffer wherever there is still Flash. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean doesn’t allow an easy installation via the Google Play Store anymore (more: http://www.howtogeek.com/120277/how-to-install-flash-on-the-nexus-7-and-other-jelly-bean-devices/ & http://www.zdnet.com/androids-flash-player-is-dead-live-with-it-7000002668/). On iOS it never really existed except some hacks with running Flash enabled custom browsers but those never allowed to play Flash games i.e.

PC/Mac:

Some PC versions are dead or dying. It seems Adobe can’t keep up with the quality assurance anymore. The native Linux version that installs into Firefox has been abandoned in favor of supporting only the Chrome Pepper API plug-in on Linux (more: http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=MTA2MDc). The native Windows version for Firefox suffers to from bugs like the protected mode problem that can be fixed manually by editing the config file of Flash (more: http://www.trishtech.com/internet/disable_adobe_flash_protected_mode_in_firefox.php) and even the Pepper API Chrome plug-in on Linux introduces nasty regression bugs breaking hardware video decoding and similar. The Mac version has regressive bugs like missing hardware decoding from time to time too. All together the variety of Flash versions is so vast that it’s really hard to keep track of them: http://blogs.computerworld.com/desktop-apps/20845/explaining-confusion-over-flash-versions

Apps:

In Apps Flash is behind the door usually except in Google Chrome Web Apps that can be simple links to Flash based websites. AIR is dead meanwhile as well. The AIR App Marketplaces always sucked (I had it on my WeTab) so it was no big loss. Windows 8 Apps can be either HTML5 or native. In Windows 8 Internet Explorer 10 comes with Flash but only white listed website can run it in the Modern UI mode. Only the Desktop mode allows to show every website in Internet Explorer 10. (more: http://www.infoworld.com/t/microsoft-windows/flash-windows-8-thats-just-part-of-the-story-194315 & http://blog.rabidgremlin.com/2012/10/11/did-microsoft-just-kill-flash-ie10-wont-run-flash-unless-your-site-is-on-a-microsoft-whitelist/?replytocom=2560).

The future of Adobe & HTML5:

Adobe recently announced their HTML5 tools called Edge that are more or less what I predicted more than a year ago (more: http://html.adobe.com/edge/) . To be frankly they are very late with that. I started using a web based HTML5 editor called Maquetta (more: http://maqetta.org/) that came out of IBM as an open source project long before Edge came out (more: http://maqetta.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=28:ibm-contributes-maqetta-to-open-source-community&catid=2:news&Itemid=9).

Conclusion:

In general I think content providers for video, browser game developers and the online advertising industry should get their asses up all together and invest massively in HTML5. Operating system makes should focus on making HTML5 as fast and snappy as possible to prevent App developers to go native on their Apps like Facebook recently (more: http://hughewilliams.com/2012/09/27/why-facebook-shouldnt-have-dumped-html5/). The W3C and individual company lobbyists looking after the HTML5 standard should stop fighting about dumb codecs i.e. and finally agree on the best option. JavaScript and CSS should get some overhaul too. If I see how difficult it became to do easy things these days or how inconsistent and immature JavaScript still is I wonder how HMTL5 App developers manage to write complex web applications like browser games using that technology (not to mention browser compatibility issues). There is a long way to get rid of Flash ahead of us but in the end it’s worth it. Things are changing and Steve Jobs was absolutely right.

Stereoscopic 3D with AMD HD3D and an Acer GR235Hbmii

This hot piece of Taiwanese hardware is my new monitor. It’s a 23” gaming monitor with stereoscopic 3D using polarization technology. My verdict after a few months of using it? It’s for sure worth the money! The Acer is currently priced around 170 Euro and is not only “3D ready” it IS “3D enabled” even for AMD users (like me) as you connect the monitor via HDMI 1.4a and this allows using native AMD HD3D support (i.e. in games like Battlefield 3, Dirt 3, Deus Ex Human Revolution) or running TriDef for other or older games.

There are a few confusing and misleading specs floating around the interwebs so let me clarify:

  • Make no mistake, this not 120Hz! It runs 60Hz or 75Hz in 2D and 23Hz in AMD HD3D mode.
  • The TriDef driver IS included and supported.

Pros:

  • Low price
  • Low input lag and response time
  • Nice design
  • Feels large even as a 23” monitor
  • Supports AMD (former ATI) graphic cards via AMD HD3D and TriDef
  • The polarization 3D glasses don’t need any batteries and are thus are not heavy
  • You can use any polarization 3D glasses, even those you brought from the cinema
  • Games with native AMD HD3D support run with DX11 and only a small performance impact (a good example is Battlefield 3 – with AMD HD3D I can play on high – with TriDef I have to switch to medium quality settings)
  • The TriDef forum is pretty cool and helpful

Cons:

  • Polarization 3D feels a bit blurry as it’s using interpolation
  • TriDef is a performance eater. It cuts the FPS of a game in half.
  • TriDef creates more ghost images than AMD HD3D.
  • Not all TriDef profiles work as expected. In Assassins Creed Brotherhood i.e. players have black eyes. A work around is avaibable but you have to find that in the TriDef forum.
  • AMD HD3D is scaling down the image via HDMI. This can be fixed in 2D mode via the overscan/underscan settings in Catalyst Control center but in 3D mode you get black borders. This looks like a bug and reported this to AMD and Acer

So what games do I enjoy most with stereoscopic 3D?

  • 3rd person games like Assassins Creed Brotherhood, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction or Avatar the game just look cool as the character you play always creates a level in the foreground.
  • FPS shooters like Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare 3 look pretty good but actually I tend to close an eye when aiming so it’s even hindering the gameplay a bit. The only advantage I noticed was in Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer where you have small maps and other players often come out of corners or doors close to you. In that case the 3D was helpful to notice the enemy is close and make a melee attack.
  • Surprisingly Sonic Generations looks super cool in  stereoscopic 3D
  • Racing games like Need for Speed Hot Pursuit look sweet too

What about movies?

  • The are are few demos that come with the TriDef drivers and there is a site where you can watch and buy 3D movies online: yabazam.com
  • I have no Blu-Ray drive in my PC so I can’t tell if playing 3D Blu-Rays would work. I plan to buy such a drive though. Will update the post with learnings of course.
  • YouTube works perfectly with 3D and this monitor and actually has a lot of nice content.

HP Veer

“Smallest, most powerful smartphone on the market”. This is how Jon Rubinstein, former SVP & GM of Palm Global Business, HP described it when it came out mid 2011. That was before Leo Apotheker, former HP CEO decided he knows best what “not to do” and killed the entire Palm division they acquired in 2010 for 1.2 billion dollars (More: http://www.webosnation.com/mckinney-hp-was-supposed-leave-palm-alone-three-years-lacked-patience-innovation). He almost put HP out of the PC hardware business but has been fortunately stopped and replaced by Meg Whitman. She wasn’t able to revert his decision but at least she decided to make WebOS (the operating system of the HP-re-branded Palm phones) available as open-source. HP won’t release any new smartphones though.

I thought that this might be actually a good moment to get a Linux-based WebOS smartphone on eBay. When it came out it sold for about 400 Euro. I got a used one for about 70 Euro on eBay about a month ago. What’s my verdict?

Pros:

  • It IS really powerful. The Veer can even handle 3D games like Ground Effect.
  • The UI of WebOS is one of the most intuitive I have even seen.
  • It’s small but that’s actually an advantage as you can put it in your pocket.
  • The camera takes very good photos in my opinion.
  • The slide-out-keyboard is small but actually it’s easy to type on it.
  • The connector free charging dock is absolutely awesome. The Veer turns in to a fancy table clock on it.
  • The App Catalog offers enough apps to keep you entertained (inc. Facebook, 3rd party Twitter apps like phnx and many games).
  • The browser manages to display websites very well on such a small screen. Multi-Touch scaling works flawlessly.

Cons:

  • Batter life is very short with about one day.
  • New games like Angry Birds Space are not released on WebOS. Other developers drop support too.
  • No carrier updates (at least not in Europe) of the WebOS 2.1 (2.4 manual update is possible though).
  • Some integrations like the Yahoo! login for Mail & Messenger are broken.
  • Google Maps app is broken since Google changed something but there is Bing maps that works though.
  • Facebook changed something as well. They promote https usage and this is causing images not to show up. You can revert this manually in your Facebook settings though.

Conclusion:

The HP Veer is an awesome small piece of hardware and great software.

This of course makes me think that killing Palm was one of dumbest decisions in the recent history of silicon valley! HP would just need to find the right price segment for this mobile hardware and it would sell like hotcakes.

Just if you wonder who this Jon “Ruby” Rubinstein guy is? He’s the father of the Apple iPod (More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Rubinstein). On the photo above holding a HP Veer that was (or still is) his primary phone. (More: http://www.webosnation.com/rubinstein-veer-pre-3-touchpad).

Kinect

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Last year on Christmas I bought the Kinect & Xbox 360 for my three year old daughter. OK, I play on it too sometimes (although I’m mainly a PC gamer) so it was for us both 😉 Now after about three months I have to say I’m a bit disappointed by the overall experience.

  1. The Kinect needs a sensor holder mounted to your TV in order to see small children. Putting it on the recommended height for adults (your eye level) won’t work for children. You have to buy that extra.
  2. There is no HDMI cable included. The image quality with the bundled AV3 cable is terrible. You have to buy that extra too.
  3. The recognition of player profiles for small children is poor. The Kinect sometimes doesn’t recognize my daughter or asks her again to select her profile and at that point the most annoying bug occurs: Suddenly the recognition fails and she can’t get into the game! Very annoying. Waving at the Kinect sensor doesn’t help. Here is a photo of this profile selection screen:
    Image
  4. The gamepad should have a trackball. Without auto-aim the sticks are useless IMHO. There is a 3rd party trackball controller on the market but it’s a bit expensive: http://trackballcontroller.com

If the Kinect sensor works as it should my daughter and I have a lot of fun with it (like here in Happy Action Theater)!

Here a few games that are 3+ years old friendly:

Batman Arkham City with hybrid PhysX on AMD

Batman Arkham City is just like Mafia II a Nvidia-sponsored game with exclusive CUDA-based-PhysX support:

AMD users don’t get full particles, debris, fog and smoke effects. I bought this game but the exclusive support for Nvidia-owners-only pissed me so much off that I decided to get an additional Nvidia card that would do dedicated CUDA-PhysX calculations after watching a video on YouTube of someone who did it:

I paid 30 Euro for a GT430/PCI-E on eBay as it seemed that this card is sufficient for normal PhysX setting in the game with its 96 processor cores. I build it in next to the HD 6870 but had to switch my Asrock AOD790GX/128M main-board from PCI-E 16/1 mode to PCI-E 8/8 Crossfire-mode in order to detect the card. The GT430 barely fit in as the HD 6870 is a 2 slot card but it worked. After doing that I installed the latest Nvidia drivers 285.62 that come with PhysX 0621 and then applied the patch that makes this all possible…

http://www.ngohq.com/graphic-cards/17706-hybrid-physx-mod-v1-03-v1-05ff.html

… it made possible what Nvidia says is impossible: you can use an AMD card for the 3D acceleration and an additional one from Nvidia for PhysX rendering. Nvidia is using PhysX as a unique selling point for their GeForce cards and is pushing it into the market by paying developers to implement exclusive support. That’s not fair and the poor success of the Bullet Physics Library shows how serious Nvidia is about it. They push this proprietary “standard” by all means.

The setup with the GT430 in hybrid-mode together with the HD 6870 is maybe not the fastest and my system is mid-range (Phenom II @3,2 GHz, 6870 1GB, 4GB RAM) but it’s enough to get 30 FPS average in the in-game benchmark and play the game smoothly on DX11 normal tessellation normal PhysX settings (rest is set to very high). Before it was ~50 FPS without the PhysX effects but in this game the performance hit is worth it IMHO. To get high PhysX effects you would need to use a GTX460 BTW and to get more FPS something in general like a 6970 with 2GB.

Asus 6870 DirectCU

This is my new graphics card. An AMD Radeon HD 6870 based Asus with custom heat-pipe air cooling. More info: http://www.asus.com/Graphics_Cards/AMD_Series/EAH6870_DC2DI2S1GD5/.

Before buying it I read tons of reviews on the AMD 6000 series and compared it to Nvidia GTX 460 and 550 Ti cards in the same price range… but first let’s start with the motivation why I upgraded: When I put together the configuration of my AMD Phenom II machine I had to be careful with costs. I even considered using the on-board HD 3300 graphics unit of the 790GX chip set motherboard (an Asrock AOD790GX/128M) but in the end went for an low-end 4800 series card, the ATI 4830. The performance of it is somewhere in the range of a Nvidia 8800 GTX. Basically sufficient for the majority of games that are currently on the market. Not sure if you noticed but games these days rarely go over the hardware limits of a Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Crysis 2 is a good example of that. Game developers develop cross platform so you don’t need a high end graphics card in your PC as the GPUs of the Xbox and PS3 are a bit outdated by now.

Moreover cloud gaming is upcoming! With OnLive your games will run on remote servers and also remote graphics cards. More Info: http://www.onlive.com/#1 Another argument for not spending much on a graphics card.

So why the new graphics card?

  1. There are actually some game titles on the PC that go beyond console limitations and one of them even came included with the 6870: Shogun 2 Total War! A game that would make an Xbox CPU + GPU smoke. A console simply could’t handle it.
  2. DirectX 11games are picking up. More and more titles make use of it and there are even value games like Stalker Call of Pripyat or Metro 2033 for 10 Euro that have DirectX 11 support. Of course the DirectX 11 launch-title Dirt 2 looks even better on it.
  3. OnLive is not available in Europe yet and the quality of the streaming video isn’t that good.
  4. I consider getting a 24″monitor for stereoscopic 3D and the 6870 supports AMD HD3D. Moreover you need 1GB video memory to run games with full HD resolution.
Why the Asus?
  1. The Asus has a kick-ass heat-pipe based air cooling system that allows to overclock it to 1 GHz.
  2. It’s relatively silent for such a powerful card.
  3. It came with a Shogun 2 Total War Steam key voucher.
Why not Nvidia?
  1. I don’t like these guys. Nvidia pays game developers ridiculous amounts of money to get exclusive support of their physics acceleration standard PhysX. AMD cards can do physics acceleration as well.
  2. Nvidia has some weird deal with Microsoft making these guys look even more bad.
  3. In the same price range (160 Euro) Nvidia cards suck performance-wise at the moment.
  4. Nvidia 3D Vision stereoscopic glasses cost about 130 Euro. Shutter glasses for AMD HD3D come included with Viewsonic 120 Hz monitors for example.
  5. The future belongs to AMD and to Fusion… the melting of CPU and GPU. This is why Nvidia is so pissed about Intel integrating this in their new Sandy Bridge chips. They didn’t complain about AMD because they probably would look just foolish 😉

Complete review @Legit I recommend to read if you consider getting the Asus 6870 DirctCU: http://www.legitreviews.com/article/1605/

It landed on my WeTab

The A N D R O I D… has landed

It landed on my WeTab as an easy-to-install Android Starter application from the WeTab market. It’s a virtual-machine-like-emulation so the speed of apps like games is pretty poor in general. You can play only puzzle games that don’t need any high framerate. Most other static apps run fine with this speed. The Android installation comes with the AndroidPIT app store but about the half of the software there is not optimized for tablets in any way or doesn’t run on a virtual machine.

Nevertheless it’s great to have it and there are rumors that one day Android apps will run on the Intel x86 Atom CPU of the WeTab in native mode with better performance. More Info: http://www.android-x86.org/

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