Microsoft Windows 7 Device Stage  

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Through hands-on testing with a variety of devices, we'll show you how Windows 7's Device Stage makes interacting with your gear easier—and more fun.

For the upcoming Windows 7 operating system release, Microsoft is polishing more than just the kernel itself. The company aims to ease interaction between you and your cell phone, printer, camera, and more, through a new feature called Device Stage.

Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc describes the technology pretty well on The Windows Experience Blog, calling it a "new visual interface that makes it easy to find the things you want to do with your devices on your Windows 7 PC." With Device Stage, a photo-realistic picture of your gadget can live in your taskbar, providing one-click access to relevant apps, services, and information.

For Device Stage to work, Windows 7 loads a set of custom XML files (and possibly custom drivers) when you first connect a printer, scanner—whatever. And that's not just USB connections either; LeBlanc points out that Device Stage "works not only for devices connected to a Windows 7 PC via USB, but also Bluetooth and Wi-Fi as well. In many cases, software installation isn't required for Device Stage—with any additional drivers that might be needed automatically retrieved from Windows Update." Maybe in the final iteration things will work that smoothly, but it's proved a bit of a challenge for me so far.

The Reasoning Behind Device Stage
So where'd the idea for this come from, anyway? We can find some clues in a WinHEC presentation by Dennis Flanagan, group program manager at Microsoft. In it, Dennis noted the problems with devices in Vista:

  • Inconsistent views and entry points
  • Views are of functions, not devices
  • Limited brand and function extensibility for partners
  • Many partners are building similar applications for common tasks
  • There's no recommended path to on-board and present services

That's a complicated way of explaining that each device works in its own way in Vista, since Microsoft really hasn't offered guidance to device manufacturers on this front. To check the ink levels in your printer, you probably have to access a custom-written app from Brother, HP, or whichever. Copying music to your phone more than likely involves a custom app from Motorola or Nokia. Flanagan underscores Microsoft's inconsistencies in Vista with a screenshot:

Vista Control Panel ProblemsYou might not have noticed, having simply adjusted to the way things are, but there are 17 Control Panel applets that all aim to help you "do stuff with your stuff." Want to adjust your modem? We've got a special panel for it. Need to sync your PDA? Go to the Windows Mobile Device Center. Got a tablet PC? You'll appreciate the Pen and Input Devices Control Panel. Ugh. (story Link)

What's Behind the First 3D Super Bowl Ads  

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Who or what is InTru3D? That's the message of one of the first two Super Bowl ads to be displayed in 3D, which will feature Intel, DreamWorks, and Sobe.

Two spots will debut on Sunday: a 30-second trailer for the DreamWorks animated movie, Monsters vs. Aliens, and a second spot highlighting Sobe LifeWater energy drinks. A 3D-encoded version of the NBC show "Chuck" will be shown the day after the Super Bowl.

The 3D advertising block will air at the end of the second quarter of the Super Bowl, Intel said. Over 125 million pairs of free 3D glasses, which use a new type of 3D technology, were created by Intel and distributed by PepsiCo through their brand SoBe Lifewater.

The glasses include the InTru3D logo, although it's unclear how high profile Intel and DreamWorks will make the brand. Intru3D represents a "premium 3D cinema experience," an Intel spokesman said.

And how important is 3D to DreamWorks? It's the future of moviemaking, according to DreamWorks chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose support was documented in a video blog shot by an unnamed Intel representative during the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

"The whole enchilada," Katzenberg replied, when asked if the studio's films would be made in 3D following the release of Monsters vs. Aliens. "[It's] all 3D from here on out for us."

InTru3D represents the fruits of a partnership Intel and DreamWorks struck last July, where DreamWorks said that Intel microprocessors would be used as the rendering engines to create DreamWorks films. Intru3D is a "new set of rendering and animation tools that run on top of Intel hardware," according to an Intel spokesman.

The Intel spokesman referred to what DreamWorks refers to internally as Shrek's Law, where the processing power needed to calculate clothes, hair, backgrounds, and other scene components in the Shrek movies with the appropriate visual fidelity doubles with each film. "With 3D, you're quadrupling your processing requirements," the Intel spokesman said.

DreamWorks used Intel's Xeon processors to render the film, and will move to "Nehalem" processors, the Intel spokesman said; the first Xeon server chip will be known as the Nehalem-EP, Intel executives have said previously. DreamWorks will also be a future test site for "Larrabee," Intel's upcoming multicore graphics processor for PCs and rendering farms, the Intel spokesman said.  (full Story)

Google Earth Offers High-Res View Inside Spain's Prado  

Posted by Mohammad Talha

Google Earth brings some high culture to everyone's favorite virtual touring site. Google and Spain's Prado Museum have teamed up to put 14 masterpieces, including Francisco de Goya's "Third of May," online in high-resolution detail.

Long a satisfactory procrastination aid at work, school or home, Google Earth allows users to soar above cities and countries, oceans and deserts. Now, Google is teaming up with Spain’s Prado Museum to bring armchair tourists access to 14 of Spain’s most treasured works of art, including works by Francisco de Goya, Diego Velázquez and Hieronymus Bosch—all in stunningly high-resolution detail.

Google Earth’s technology allows users to get close enough to examine a painter's brushstrokes or the craquelure (small cracks) on the varnish of a painting. The images of these works are about 14,000 million pixels, 1,400 times more detailed than the image a 10-megapixel digital camera would take. "There is no better way to pay tribute to the great masters of the history of art than to universalize knowledge of their works using optimum conditions," Prado Director Miguel Zugaza told the Associated Press.

While crowded galleries and long lines can make visiting a museum a hassle for some, does the ability to zoom in on microscopic details that even the naked eye can’t see provide an equally fulfilling experience? Clara Rivera, the brainchild of the collaboration, says no. "There is nothing comparable to standing before any of these paintings, but this offers a complementary view," Rivera told the AP. "Normally you have to stand a good distance away from these works, but this offers you the chance to see details that you could only see from a big ladder placed right beside them." (full Story)

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MP3 Format Goes 5.1-Channel  

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While electronics titans like Sony and Samsung have massive booths and endless product lines to flaunt at CES, Fraunhofer's booth was tucked away modestly into the North Hall.

There is nothing modest about the company's technological achievements, however – the Fraunhofer Institute is responsible for developing the now ubiquitous MP3 codec, as well as the AAC codec used by Apple in its iTunes Store. PCMag was treated to a demo –

inside a 5.1-equipped car parked on Fraunhofer's booth square – of the institute's latest codec: MPEG Surround.

Until now, there hasn't been a very feasible method for getting true 5.1 surround sound to fit onto a reasonably-sized file. MPEG Surround, which is an audio codec that can also be used in conjunction with a video codec like H.264, brings true 5.1 surround to the realm of the iPod. While regular stereo headphones cannot play back true 5.1, the interesting thing about MPEG Surround is that it can detect what type of output it is using – surround sound or stereo – and adjust accordingly.

If you are listening on your stereo headphones, you will get the standard stereo mix of the song; plug the iPod into a dock that has a built-in decoder for MPEG Surround, and the exact same file will now play in nearly flawless 5.1. It was virtually impossible to hear the difference between MPEG Surround – which uses "parameters" to guide the appropriate audio to respective channels rather than carry all of the 5.1 information – and the original surround sound recordings of several different demos, from Beethoven to Pink Floyd.

Matthias Rose, head of marketing for Fraunhofer's audio and multimedia department, explained that most of the "Big Four" record labels have back catalogs, several thousands of recordings deep, of surround-sound material ready to go The issue has always been finding a standard that works in terms of size and ease of use.  (full Story)

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Dell XPS 625 – Phenom II X4  

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Based on our review of AMD's latest Phenom II processor, we noted that the new processor could make up the core of a fairly low cost gaming system. Dell has stepped up to the plate, adding an all-AMD system based on the "Dragon" platform. The Dell XPS 625 joins the XPS line of gaming rigs, and features an AMD 790GX ATX motherboard, AMD Black Edition CPUs, and Radeon HD 4000 series graphics.

xps_625_alternate_CybersSystem.blogspot The mix of components is a little odd, however. Since Dell has chosen to go with all Black Edition CPUs, you can find it equipped with the Phenom II X4 940, Phenom X4 9850+, Phenom X3 8750+, or Athlon 64 X2 5600+. You won't be able to get one with a Phenom II X4 920, however.

Equally quirky is the choice of graphics hardware: You can get your choice of a single Radeon HD 4670 or Radeon HD 4850 or dual Radeon HD 4670s or HD 4850s in CrossFire mode. What you can't get is any flavor of the Radeon HD 4870, nor can you get an X2 card (either the 4850 X2 or 4870 X2.)

Most of the other component choices are pretty straightforward, including an array of optical drives, various hard drives, and so on. Memory configurations range from 2GB to 8GB. Also available are various audio options (integrated, X-Fi, etc) as well as the somewhat controversial Killer NIC K1. You only have one choice for the operating system: Windows Vista Home Premium, but it's the 64-bit version, which we applaud. (full Story)

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