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King-size games may have to wait as Nintendo reportedly delays 64-gig Switch cartridges


The Switch may be the most pleasant tech surprise of 2017, but although it has many excellent qualities, excessive storage space is not among them. And it looks like that will continue to be a problem if, as the Wall St Journal hears, Nintendo is delaying the production of 64-gigabyte cartridges.

Right now you can fit up to 32 gigabytes on a cart, which of course is usually plenty — but games with large amounts of content or high-resolution resources are already bumping up against that limit.

If there’s not enough room on the cartridge, users have to download the rest — or the entire game — to the system’s onboard storage, which quickly fills up. Data can also be put on a user-provided Micro SD card, but even the costly 200+ GB ones offer less total storage than, say, a basic Xbox One S or PS4 Slim.

The 64 GB cartridges were originally intended to be provided in later 2018, the WSJ’s source says, but that’s been delayed to 2019. Not good if you were planning on shipping your epic RPG in time for next year’s holidays.

Could we return to the days of multiple discs for a single game? It’s highly unlikely — carts are expensive little pieces of hardware, unlike discs, and the ability to download really does solve the problem, even if you might have to clear out a few old games to make space for the new.

Having so many games that you literally can’t fit them all on your device is a good problem to have, at least. And it’s not like you can’t fit a great, gigantic game into 32 gigs — Breath of the Wild is less than half that.
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Gadgets

Intel ships update for newest Spectre-affected chips


Intel has announced that the fix is out for its latest chips affected by Spectre, the memory-leakage flaw affecting practically all computing hardware. The patch is for the Skylake generation (late 2015) and newer, though most users will still have to wait for the code to be implemented by whoever manufactured their computer (specifically, their motherboard).

The various problems presented in January by security researchers have to be addressed by a mix of fixes at the application, OS, kernel and microarchitecture level. This patch is the latter, and it replaces an earlier one that was found to be unstable.

These aren’t superficial tweaks and they’re being made under pressure, so some hiccups are to be expected — but Intel is also a huge company that has had months of warning to get this right, so people may be frustrated by the less-than-optimal way the flaws have been addressed.

As before, there isn’t much you as a user can do except make sure that you are checking frequently to make sure your PC and applications are up to date — in addition, of course, to not running any strange code.

If you’re on an older chipset, like Sandy Bridge, you’ll have to wait a bit longer — your fix is still in beta. You don’t want to be their test machine.


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A system to tell good fake bokeh from bad


The pixel-peepers over at DxOMark have shared some of the interesting metrics and techniques they use to judge the quality of a smartphone’s artificial bokeh, or background blur in photos. Not only is it difficult to do in the first place, but they have to systematize it! Their guide should provide even seasoned shooters with some insight into the many ways “computational bokeh,” as they call it, varies in quality.

Generally the effect created by an SLR with a good lens open wide, leading to smoothly blurred backgrounds and predictably shaped light points, is the gold standard.

The advantages and disadvantages of artificial background blur, as found in most flagship phones these days, come from the basis they all have in dual cameras. By using both cameras to capture information about a scene, then using that information to determine a depth map and blur out things beyond a certain distance or object, a passable simulation of the SLR’s effect can be created.

Look at that smooth background blur… photo by me.

But of course it can be done well or poorly. There are telltale signs of having taken this shortcut, many of which the DxOMark review team has identified and fit into their review schema. Some are expected, while others are a bit surprising. But they all show up in the rather crazy test setup concocted to provoke these undesired behaviors.

For instance, you probably know that these artificial bokeh systems occasionally blur out pieces of the bits they’re meant to keep sharp — a curl or hair, a hand or nearby plant. That’s points off, of course, but real background blur also ramps up smoothly on either side of the focal point, meaning things near the sharp part will be only slightly blurred, while items far away like distant lights will be reduced to circular smudges.

For a phone to simulate that, it would need to calculate an accurate depth map for everything in the scene and render the blur progressively. That kind of processing costs time and battery, so few do anything like it. Still, it’s what they should do if they’re imitating this optical phenomenon — so DxOMark grades them on it.

That’s only one of several pieces of the puzzle, however, so read the rest and next time you read one of the site’s reviews, you’ll have a bit more insight into where all those points come from.
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One of Nest’s cameras can now double as a Google Assistant

After Google announced earlier this month that it was going to wrap Nest back into Google’s hardware operation, everyone figured we’d see a bit more overlap between the two. Sure enough, just two weeks later: the Nest Cam IQ Indoor is getting support for Google Assistant.

Nest says the app update that lets users toggle Google Assistant functionality should hit sometime today. The Nest Cam IQ already has a microphone and speaker built-in for two-way communications, so this just repurposes that existing hardware.

Once you’ve turned on the functionality, Google Assistant on the Cam IQ should work the same as it does on any Google Home device (minus a few things that would generally require a bigger speaker, like playing music, making phone calls, or listening to the news) — just say “OK Google” followed by your question.

It sounds like this functionality is only coming to the Cam IQ Indoor for now — so don’t try barking commands at the outdoor Cam or your old Dropcams just yet.
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