A boutique builder has launched a new lineup of “no GPU” enthusiast PCs, specifically intended for gamers who already have a video card but need to buy everything else. So far, only one company that we’re aware of has taken this step, but several recent stories have implied GPU availability is getting worse, not better. This may be the beginning of a trend.
I’ve been a gamer long enough to remember the introduction of 3D video cards. For the past two decades, “gaming” and “GPU” have been practically synonymous, but they weren’t always. Prior to the introduction of consumer-level 3D accelerators, performance in the 3D renderers of the day (Ultima Underworld, Doom, Quake, various flight simulators) was entirely dependent on CPU performance.
I suspect one reason AMD survived the x86 desktop CPU wars of the mid-1990s, where companies such as IDT and Cyrix did not, is the floating-point unit on chips like the K6 and K6-2 was powerful enough for modest gaming. Other manufacturers could only compete with Intel in integer workloads and their designs were limited to low-end budget rigs. So long as Intel dominated both integer and floating-point math, it could dominate gaming.
Then came the era of 3D acceleration, powered by Voodoo, TNT, and Rage. Intel MMX, introduced in January 1997, was meant to be the beginning of a new era of 3D rendering in which SIMD units inside CPUs would accelerate video games. Instead, video cards and GPUs became the predominant driver of gaming performance. Even today, when integrated graphics are better than they’ve ever been, GPUs are considered a requirement for any computer intended to game above minimum detail levels and settings. Under normal circumstances, taking the GPU out of a boutique system wrecks it for its intended purpose.
The UK boutique, FiercePC, claims that these systems “will not boot up” without an external GPU, but only two of the systems use an “F”-class Intel CPU that lacks an integrated GPU. The third is a Core i7-10700 and the motherboard for this system (Asus TUF B460-PLUS) features an HDMI port. FiercePC may have disabled the integrated GPU by default, but a UEFI reset would restore it.
The point of buying a boutique PC is that you’re paying for convenience and some degree of customization. This very much includes not having to install core components yourself. Selling a platform absent the GPU implies GPU prices are rising, even for OEMs. This would make sense, given that multiple companies like MSI and Asus are planning to increase prices as availability drops. Gamers know that integrated graphics aren’t intended for gaming, and there’s not enough variance in integrated GPU configurations to build a product stack out of in the first place. Selling the systems in a “BYOG” configuration lets FiercePC avoid throwing a card in at all, and it dodges the negative associated with selling a high-end boutique PC that depends entirely on its iGPU.
The out-of-control prices on eBay imply few gamers are buying Ampere or RDNA2 at anything approaching MSRP. If more companies copy FiercePC on this and start offering gaming systems without GPUs, it’ll be a further indication of how choked the market is. It’s not a good sign for a gaming PC builder to start shipping systems without the signature component that defines a gaming PC.
NASA’s Perseverance rover has been on the surface of Mars for several days, giving the team here on Earth time to run system checks and download preliminary data from the robot. The agency has now released the first large batch of media from the mission, including hundreds of still images and the first video and audio ever recorded on Mars.
Some past Mars missions have sent back “videos,” but those were actually GIFs stitched together from a handful of still frames. Perseverance has 23 cameras, several of which can record full-motion video. NASA used some of those cameras to capture the rover’s landing in incredible detail.
The video below shows the entire landing procedure, starting as the descent stage began lining up for its touchdown in Jezero Crater. Early in the video, an upward-facing camera filmed the parachute deployment, while the downward view showed the heat shield dropping off. With the rover exposed, the landing cameras and radar were able to pick out the landing zone, which is entirely autonomous as Mars is too far away to control the robot in real-time.
The truly amazing part of the landing video comes the sky crane works its magic. Just like Curiosity, Perseverance used a rocket-powered sled to hover just above the surface, allowing the crane to place it gently on the planet before flying off to crash a safe distance away. This time, NASA and the rest of the world gets to see the sky crane in action from multiple angles: there’s video of the dusty crater floor under the rover, a shot from the rover looking up at the crane, and a video from the crane looking down at Perseverance as it dangled at the end of the cables. At the very end, you can see the sky crane float out of frame as it moves clear of the lander.
Following the landing, NASA flipped the switch on Perseverance’s microphones, which are a new addition this year. The InSight lander was able to record sounds in a roundabout way by translating vibrations in its solar panels into audio, but Perseverance has just returned the first real sound from Mars. As expected, it’s quiet and a little eerie.
The team is currently working on getting the rover’s high-gain antenna online. When that happens, it will be easier to send and receive data from Perseverance. In the meantime, there are already hundreds of new images from Mars available on the Mas 2020 site. You can check regularly to see more of the raw data and mission updates.
Criminal charges have been dropped against two police officers seen on video last spring shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground in Buffalo, N.Y., prosecutors said Thursday.
A grand jury declined to indict Buffalo Officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski on felony assault charges, ending the matter, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said.
Messages seeking comment were left with lawyers representing the officers. A message was also left for the man who was pushed to the ground, longtime activist Martin Gugino.
John Evans, president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, told The Buffalo News: “Obviously, we are ecstatic with their decision. These officers have been put through hell and I look forward to seeing them back on the job.”
Flynn, echoing earlier statements, said he didn’t necessarily feel that altercation rose to the level of a felony but that state law required prosecutors to bring such a charge when a victim is at least 65 and the suspected perpetrators are at least 10 years younger.
WATCH | Video of the June 2020 incident in Buffalo, N.Y.:
The man was at a protest that was nearing its end when he was pushed by police and hit his head on the sidewalk. Two police officers have been suspended. 0:35
‘This was not the J.F.K. assassination’
Addressing criticism that he slow-played or “sandbagged” the case, Flynn said prosecutors made a thorough presentation to the grand jury but, citing secrecy rules, said he couldn’t discuss what witnesses were called or what evidence was presented. The grand jury heard the case on a delayed basis because of coronavirus-related court closures, he said.
Flynn said throughout the investigation, video of the shove remained the primary evidence.
“This was not the J.F.K. assassination,” Flynn said. “This was not that complex of a case. The video that was taken speaks for itself.”
A news crew covering protests in downtown Buffalo last June over the Minnesota police killing of George Floyd captured video of the officers shoving longtime activist Martin Gugino to the ground in front of city hall as they cleared demonstrators from the area for an 8 p.m. curfew.
Gugino, pushed backward, started bleeding after hitting his head on the pavement and spent about a month in the hospital with a fractured skull and brain injury.
McCabe and Torgalski were suspended without pay and subsequently arrested. They pleaded not guilty and were released without bail pending further developments in the case.
Flynn said at a news conference Thursday that national attention on the case had no influence on his decision to charge the officers right away.
“All I need is probable cause for an arrest,” Flynn said. “When I go to trial, though, I need beyond a reasonable doubt. At this point right now, it’s 50/50 in my mind as to whether or not it was intentional or reckless. If it’s 50/50, that’s not beyond a reasonable doubt. That analysis factors into my mind, but I can’t articulate to you what was going on in [grand jurors’] minds.”
In the wake of the officers’ suspensions, nearly 60 other members of the department’s crowd control unit said they would no longer serve on the unit, effectively shutting it down.
Prosecutors at Donald Trump’s impeachment trial said Wednesday they would prove that the former president was no “innocent bystander” but the “inciter in chief” of the deadly attack at the U.S. Capitol aimed at overturning his election loss to Joe Biden.
Opening the first full day of arguments, the lead House prosecutor said they will lay out evidence that shows the president encouraged a rally crowd to head to the Capitol on Jan. 6, then did nothing to stem the violence and watched with “glee” as a mob stormed the iconic building. Five people died.
“To us it may have felt like chaos and madness, but there was method to the madness that day,” Rep. Jamie Raskin said.
The day’s proceedings were unfolding after an emotional start Tuesday that left the former president fuming when his attorneys delivered a meandering defence and failed to halt the trial on constitutional grounds. Some allies called for yet another shakeup to his legal team.
Trump is the first president to face an impeachment trial after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached. The Jan. 6 Capitol riot followed a rally during which Trump urged his supporters to “fight like hell,” words his lawyers say were simply a figure of speech. He is charged with “incitement of insurrection.”
Impeachment manager Rep. Joe Neguse said that Trump “used his speech as a call to arms.”
House Democratic prosecutors are seeking to link the former Republican president directly to the deadly riot, replaying videos of the rioters trying to stop the certification of Biden’s victory and Trump’s statements urging them to fight the election results.
“This was, as one of our colleagues put it, so cogently on Jan. 6 itself, the greatest betrayal of the presidential oath in the history of the United States. The evidence will show you that he saw it coming and was not remotely surprised by the violence,” Raskin said.
Security footage not previously released
The prosecutors are arguing that Trump’s words weren’t just free speech but part of “the big lie” — his relentless efforts to sow doubts about the Nov. 3 election results. Those began long before the votes were tabulated, revving up his followers to “stop the steal,” though there was no evidence of substantial fraud.
They used Trump’s own words — from his tweets dating from months before the election in which he warned his supporters the vote would be rigged and from the days following it, repeating his messages of “stop the steal” and “stop the count” — as well as video clips played in the Senate. More video was expected Wednesday, including some that hasn’t been seen before.
Trump knew very well what would happen when he took to the microphone at the outdoor White House rally that day, almost to the hour that Congress gavelled in to certify Biden’s win, Neguse said.
“This was not just a speech,” he said.
Trump’s supporters were prepped and armed, ready to descend on the Capitol, Neguse said. “When they heard his speech, they understood his words.”
WATCH | Trump could suffer permanent damage politically regardless of verdict:
A panel of U.S. politics experts break down the first day of former president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial and what the goal is, considering the Senate is unlikely to convict him. 8:06
House impeachment manager Rep. Eric Swalwell detailed how Trump announced the rally on Twitter, writing on Dec. 19: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
Swalwell said that Jan. 6 was Trump’s “last chance to stop a peaceful transition of power.” He said Trump’s tweet wasn’t a “casual, one-off reference or a single invitation” and that for the next 18 days, he reminded his supporters “over and over and over” to show up.
“This was never about one speech,” Swalwell said. “He built this mob over many months with repeated messaging until they believed that they’d been robbed of their vote, and they would do anything to stop the certification.”
As violence mounted in the states during the weeks and months before Trump supporters marched to the Capitol, the House managers argued he could have told loyalists to stand down, but didn’t.
The mob “didn’t come out of thin air,” said Rep . Joaquin Castro.
But during a break in the trial Wednesday afternoon, many Republicans appeared indifferent to the Democratic prosecutors’ case and made it clear they were still unlikely to convict.
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley said the prosecutors’ case was “predictable” and included information that was already public.
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, another close ally of Trump, said the trial “is going to be pretty tedious.” He said the two sides would be better served to make their case “in a couple hours, and be done with this.”
Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe said Democrats have “put a real good team together,” but said he didn’t think anything had been said “by either side that has changed any votes.”
CNN reported that some Republican senators didn’t even appear to be listening to what the prosecutors were laying out.
Trump frustrated with legal team
Senators, many of whom fled for safety on the day of the attack, watched Tuesday’s graphic videos of the Trump supporters who battled past police to storm the halls.
A frustrated Trump on Tuesday night revived his demands to focus his defence on his unsupported claims of voter fraud, repeatedly telephoning former White House aide Peter Navarro, who told the Associated Press in an interview he agrees. He is calling on Trump to fire his legal team.
“If he doesn’t make a mid-course correction here, he’s going to lose this Super Bowl,” Navarro said, in a reference to public opinion, not the unlikely possibility of conviction.
Republicans made it clear after Tuesday’s proceedings that they, too, were unhappy with Trump’s defence, many of them saying they didn’t understand where it was going — particularly Castor’s opening.
6 of 50 Republicans vote that trial is constitutional
Security remains extremely tight at the Capitol, which is fenced off with razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops.
Six Republicans joined with Democrats on Tuesday to vote to proceed with the trial in a 56-44 vote. A two-thirds threshold of 67 votes would be needed for conviction.
WATCH | Highlights from Day 2:
Democrats opened former U.S. president Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial with some of the worst scenes captured of the Capitol Hill riots on Jan. 6. While Trump’s conviction is unlikely, it could still serve to further divide Republicans. 2:32
It appears unlikely that the House prosecutors will call witnesses, and Trump has declined a request to testify. The trial is expected to continue at least until the weekend.
Trump’s second impeachment trial is expected to diverge from the lengthy, complicated affair of a year ago. In that case, Trump was charged with having privately pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, then a Democratic rival for the presidency.
This time, Trump’s “stop the steal” rally rhetoric for two months after the Nov. 3 election and the storming of the Capitol played out for the world to see.
The Democratic-led House impeached the president swiftly, one week after the attack.
Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial opened Tuesday in the Senate with graphic video of the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Congress and the defeated former president whipping up a rally crowd — saying “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol!” — as he encouraged a futile fight over his presidency.
The lead House prosecutor told senators the case would present “cold, hard facts” against Trump, who is charged with inciting the siege of the Capitol to overturn the presidential election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Senators sitting as jurors, many who themselves fled for safety that day, watched the jarring video of the chaotic scene, which included rioters pushing past police to storm the halls and Trump flags waving.
“That’s a high crime and misdemeanor,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, in opening remarks. “If that’s not an impeachable offence, then there’s no such thing.”
Trump is the first president to face impeachment charges after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached . The Capitol siege stunned the world as rioters ransacked the building to try to stop the certification of Biden’s victory, a domestic attack on the nation’s seat of government unlike any in its history. Five people died.
Figure of speech, say Trump lawyers
Each side has two hours to make its case on Tuesday, after which the Senate is expected to vote and reject the Republican efforts to dismiss the trial.
Trump’s lawyers insist that he is not guilty on the sole charge of “incitement of insurrection,” his fiery words just a figure of speech, even as he encouraged a rally crowd to “fight like hell” for his presidency. Five people died as a result of the ensuing siege of the Capitol.
Front Burner21:38Trump’s impeachment: Will history repeat itself?
Donald Trump is facing an historic second Senate impeachment trial. Will the former U.S. president avoid conviction once again? Politico reporter Andrew Desiderio explains why all signs point to an acquittal. 21:38
While acquittal is likely, the trial will test the nation’s attitude toward his brand of presidential power, the Democrats’ resolve in pursuing him, and the loyalty of Trump’s Republican allies defending him.
“In trying to make sense of a second Trump trial, the public should keep in mind that Donald Trump was the first president ever to refuse to accept his defeat,” said Timothy Naftali, a clinical associate professor at New York University and an expert on Richard Nixon’s impeachment saga, which ended with Nixon’s resignation rather than his impeachment.
“This trial is one way of having that difficult national conversation about the difference between dissent and insurrection,” Naftali said.
Security remained extremely tight at the Capitol, a changed place after the attack, fenced off with razor wire and armed National Guard troops on patrol. The nine House managers walked across the shuttered building to prosecute the case before the Senate.
Constitutional arguments up first
In filings, lawyers for the former president lobbed a wide-ranging attack against the House case, dismissing the trial as “political theatre” on the same Senate floor invaded by the mob.
Trump’s defenders are preparing to challenge both the constitutionality of the trial and any suggestion that he was to blame for the insurrection. They suggest that Trump was simply exercising his First Amendment rights when he encouraged his supporters to protest at the Capitol, and they argue the Senate is not entitled to try Trump now that he has left office.
WATCH | Amherst College law professor Lawrence Douglas on Trump’s 2nd trial:
The second impeachment trial of former U.S. president Donald Trump is not without precedent, says law professor Lawrence Douglas, nor is it likely to result in a conviction. 4:04
Witnesses unlikely to be called
But the House prosecutors argued there is no “January exception” for a president on his way out the door. Rep. Joe Neguse, referred to the corruption case of William Belknap, a war secretary in the Grant administration, who was impeached, tried and ultimately acquitted by the Senate after leaving office.
“President Trump was not impeached for run of the mill corruption, misconduct. He was impeached for inciting a violent insurrection – an insurrection where people died, in this building,” Neguse said.”If Congress stands by, it would invite future presidents to use their power without any fear of accountability.”
It appears unlikely that the House prosecutors will call witnesses, in part because the senators were witnesses themselves. At his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump has declined a request to testify.
Trump’s defence team has said it plans to counter with its own cache of videos of Democratic politicians making fiery speeches. “We have some videos up our sleeve,” senior Trump adviser Jason Miller said on a podcast Monday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden would not be watching the trial of his predecessor.
“Joe Biden is the president, he’s not a pundit,” she said. “He’s not going to opine on back and forth arguments.”
WATCH | Trump’s First Amendment rights could rest on intent:
The events, the words and the context leading up to the Capitol Hill riots will be the key evidence used in former U.S. president Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial in the Senate. 6:39
Typically senators sit at their desks for such occasions, but the COVID-19 crisis has upended even this tradition. Instead, senators will be allowed to spread out, in the “marble room” just off the Senate floor, where proceedings will be shown on TV, and in the public galleries above the chamber, to accommodate social distancing, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
Trump’s second impeachment trial is expected to diverge from the lengthy, complicated affair of a year ago. In that case, Trump was charged with having privately pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, then a Democratic rival for the presidency.
This time, Trump’s “stop the steal” rally rhetoric and the storming of the Capitol played out for the world to see, as well the preceding two months in which he claimed without merit on Twitter and in appearances that he was legitimate winner of the election.
The Current20:13What Donald Trump’s impeachment trial means for U.S. political institutions
As former U.S. president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial gets underway this week for his role in inciting the U.S. Capitol attack, some say the country’s political institutions are at stake. To unpack the issue, Matt Galloway speaks with Ken Mack, the Lawrence D. Biele professor of law and affiliate professor of history at Harvard University, and Karen Tumulty, a political columnist for the Washington Post. 20:13
The Democratic-led House impeached the president swiftly, one week after the most violent attack on Congress in more than 200 years.
A conviction in a Senate trial requires two-thirds — or 67 senators — to vote in favour.
David Pontone’s voice still shakes as he recalls having to crawl out of Toronto’s Humber River Hospital on his hands and knees.
“The pain was unbearable,” said Pontone. “To be able to walk properly was impossible.”
It happened on April 18, 2018 but involved a lengthy battle for his family to obtain video footage of the event.
The 45-year-old had gone to emergency, complaining of excruciating pain in his legs.
Pontone also told medical staff he took medication for bipolar affective disorder — a mental illness that causes severe depression and episodes of mania — but that he’d been stable for seven years. He says that disclosure affected his treatment.
“They thought I was faking it because I was bipolar,” Pontone told Go Public. “There are no words to describe what I went through that night.”
One of Canada’s leading psychiatric experts says overlooking serious physical health issues in people who struggle with mental illness is a widespread problem — and that it can severely shorten their lifespans.
“We are failing this population miserably,” said Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos, psychiatrist and physician-in-chief at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital.
WATCH | Video shows man crawling from hospital after calls for help dismissed:
CBC News has obtained surveillance video of a man forced to crawl away from a Toronto-area hospital after being refused treatment. The video has raised questions about how people with mental health issues are treated when they need medical help. 2:01
“They go in for a broken leg and get sent to psychiatry to check their head.”
Pontone says he hopes sharing his story will prevent others from experiencing an ordeal like his.
“I was mistreated. Misjudged. It should never be repeated, with any person,” he said.
When Pontone arrived at emergency he was seen by a doctor who ordered an MRI but also referred him to an on-call psychiatrist after learning about his mental illness.
In medical records obtained by Go Public, the psychiatrist noted that “anxiety” seemed to be Pontone’s most dominant symptom — despite Pontone having said he was in a great deal of pain and had been suffering from increasing leg pain for a month.
Another note says the reason for Pontone’s visit is “bipolar” — not his inability to walk.
When the MRI didn’t find anything unusual, the psychiatrist discharged Pontone.
“As soon as they got the results … they took off the blankets and started saying, ‘Come on, get up! You’re fine, there’s nothing wrong with you!'” said Pontone.
Video cameras at the exit captured Pontone as he was ordered to leave. The footage shows Pontone lying on the hallway floor, struggling to stand.
As he gets to his hands and knees and crawls toward the exit, a nurse walks next to him, escorting him out. Passersby stop to look at the spectacle, but the nurse encourages Pontone to keep going.
“The nurse kept saying, ‘You’re a big boy! You’re strong! Come on, big boy, stand up!'” said Pontone.
“I’ve always been a gentleman, but I was angry. I felt totally helpless.”
It took Pontone about 20 minutes to reach the exit. A security guard later helped him to a waiting taxi.
He says the doctors had made him think his pain was “all in his head,” so a few days later, he made his way to CAMH, where a psychiatrist immediately determined that his suffering had nothing to do with his mental health.
An ambulance took him to Toronto Western Hospital in downtown Toronto, where a neurologist diagnosed Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves.
Five weeks later, the family met with Humber management. They hadn’t seen the video yet, but chief nursing executive Vanessa Burkoski had screened it and told them she was disturbed by what she saw.
She apologized, and told the family they could have the video once people’s faces had been blurred for privacy.
In a follow-up meeting two months later, the family viewed the video for the first time.
“They let him go, like a dog, outside,” said Pontone’s mother, Lucia. “Nobody should be treated like that.”
“It’s hard to understand how the hospital thought this was OK,” said Pontone’s sister Laura. “It was humiliating. It was not OK.”
Pontone wanted a copy of the video, but in spite of Burkoski’s earlier assurances, the hospital now said it couldn’t hand the footage over, in case Pontone unblurred the faces of other people.
The hospital took the matter to Ontario’s Privacy Commissioner, stating it didn’t feel comfortable giving Pontone the video and that a cybersecurity expert would have to be hired for about ten hours to use multi-layered obscuring technology, so Pontone couldn’t unblur the faces later.
It also said Pontone would have to pay the cost and sign an agreement, promising not to share the video.
The Pontones met with Toronto personal injury lawyer Harrison Cooper, who offered to work pro bono after hearing about his ordeal.
“In Canada we pride ourselves on evolving to understand mental illness,” said Cooper. “And we don’t want incidents like this — where someone who has a mental illness isn’t treated the same way someone without mental illness is treated.”
The fight took two years to resolve. The privacy commissioner ruled Pontone could have the footage if basic blurring was done, stating that Pontone had shown no indication he wanted to reveal other people’s faces.
The hospital paid for the blurring and shared the footage.
Hospital ‘deeply troubled’
Go Public requested an interview with a spokesperson for Humber River Hospital, which was declined.
“Every patient at Humber River Hospital deserves compassionate, professional and respectful care from our staff,” Gorman wrote.
Go Public has learned that the nurse who escorted Pontone out of the hospital was fired. Gorman wouldn’t say whether any of the doctors were disciplined.
Stergiopoulos was not involved when Pontone visited CAMH. But she says it’s so common for health-care professionals to blame mental illness for people’s physical health concerns that there’s a term for it — “diagnostic overshadowing.”
She recalls, several decades ago, “having to take a patient of mine with serious mental illness to the oncologist who had refused to treat her just because she had a mental illness.”
“It was through advocacy that I managed to get her into treatment and she was treated successfully,” she said. “And to see that persist so many years later, it’s really heartbreaking. I think we can do better and I think we should do better.”
A 2019 Lancet Psychiatry Commission reviewed the findings of almost 100 systemic reviews that examined the presence of medical conditions among people worldwide with mental illness. It found that people with serious mental illness have a life expectancy that’s up to 25 years shorter than the general population.
“The statistics are indeed shocking,” said Stergiopoulos. “And what is most shocking is that they’re persisting despite us knowing about these issues for many years now.”
She says several factors can be behind the shortened life expectancy for people with mental health issues — such as a sedentary lifestyle or a lack of disease prevention services — but a key reason is stigma and discrimination by health-care workers.
At the root of the problem, says Stergiopoulos, health-care professionals see physical and mental health as separate.
“This is flawed and we need to do a better job at seeing people as human beings.”
Pontone spent almost four months undergoing intensive rehabilitation, but considers himself lucky to be able to walk again — Guillain-Barre Syndrome can worsen rapidly and attack the organs. It can also lead to full-body paralysis and possibly death.
His mother hopes that speaking out will benefit other people with mental illness who need help with a physical problem.
“I want the hospital to change the way they look at mental health,” she says. “So that this doesn’t happen again.”
Note: This is not a full-fledged formal review and comparison of Topaz Video Enhance AI against other in-market applications, but a discussion of one particular application’s strengths and weaknesses. Model quality and capability are still changing significantly from version to version.
Over the past 10 months, as I’ve worked on upscaling Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Voyager, I’ve relied on one piece of software above all others to perform the work: Topaz Video Enhance AI ($ 199.99, for Windows and Mac). I have recommended this product both indirectly and directly, and I’m going to continue to do so. But I need to make certain it’s clear what you are getting into.
Up until September, virtually all my focus had been on improving the quality of my video pre-processing steps. After publishing “What No Fan Has Seen Before,” I decided to turn my attention to the upscaler side of the equation.
Here’s the good news: Topaz Video Enhance AI is, hands-down, the best AI video upscaler I’ve tested. Some of its models are tunable and it can improve a broad range of video. I’ve seen it breathe new life into Grateful Dead shows, old VHS tapes, Star Trek, Stargate: SG-1 and a number of other types of content.
I cannot say that the entire community has been happy with the pace of development, but given the complexity of video editing software and the need to keep continually improving the underlying AI, I feel like things have been moving along at a reasonable clip. AI video processing is an incredibly new market, and Topaz is way out in front of any of the video editors I’ve tested (though I’m always happy to hear suggestions for other programs to test). To the best of my knowledge, TVEAI is the only application that does what it does as well as it does it.
I don’t have a lot of new footage to show just at the moment — I’ve been working on Voyager, but I’m not ready to show work. What I’ve got on tap is a version of the DS9 credits I built immediately after “What No Fan Has Seen Before” went live. This footage was produced using AviSynth+ for initial upscaling and TVEAI for processing. For those of you wondering where the tutorial I promised is — I’m still working to hammer out a workflow that’s going to deal with the full range of the show and improve the first seasons more than the current method does.
But users should be aware that there are some inconveniences to Topaz Video Enhance AI as well. First, it is not kind to system stability. It never fails to start properly when a machine is fresh from reboot, but if you’ve been using your GPU for other applications, the program may need a reboot to work properly. Stopping and starting it again pretty much always works the first time. It probably works a second time. You’ve even got a solid shot at three times. Asking it to render more than three videos in a row? That’s pushing your luck. Eventually, either the AI engine will fail to initialize or the application will crash and a reboot will be required.
Topaz Video Enhance AI seems to become unstable faster if other applications like StaxRip are running multi-threaded AviSynth+ encodes at the same time. It is not overly fond of sharing the GPU, though this behavior has improved in recent months. I’d recommend rebooting every 1-2 days to minimize the chances of a crash, especially if you’re running multiple videos in that time. Loading videos increases the chance that the next video will cause a crash, though the software can also crash on very long encodes. Preprocessing is often required for maximal upscale effectiveness, however. Personally, I just grit my teeth and reboot a lot.
One of the ways Topaz has addressed this instability issue is by creating an AutoSave mode that reloads your previous video and remembers (mostly) what frame you were on. This mitigates the hassle of rebooting four times in a single day when upscaling a great many short clips.
Model Quality Is Still a Moving Target
The quality of each AI model varies from release version to release version. One of the suggestions I’ve made to the company that it’s said it will implement is making it easier to find older versions of the software. This can be a necessity when testing to see if a given model works better in an older or a newer version.
The reason that model quality can vary is that the company is continuing to refine and train its models. There are a lot of moving parts in the equation, and Topaz has been trying to improve their application on multiple fronts simultaneously, which means some models have gotten worse and then been rolled back or repaired over time. Some spots that were hard for Topaz to upscale in February are still hard in October.
If you’re interested in this software, take advantage of the free trial to make certain its models can address your content before pulling the trigger on it.
Be advised that Topaz Video Enhance AI is not a magic bullet. Here are two very different versions of Benjamin Sisko:
Season 2. This is upscaled. It’s an older shot, and I’ve improved on it, but I haven’t fundamentally transformed it.
This is from Season 2, which appears to have been transferred to DVD in a manner intended to preserve every bit of the VHS “Super Long Play” viewing experience. Here’s Benjamin Sisko from Season 4:
Season 4 Captain Sisko. This is purely the difference in how the show was mastered to DVD, nothing I’ve done.
I’m still working to discover if the top frame can be fixed, but the fact that the image doesn’t look great is not TVEAI’s fault. There’s a limit to what the application can handle, and even some commercial video isn’t very good right now.
Topaz’s Ownership Model
Topaz has an interesting software model. When you buy Video Enhance AI, you get access to the application as it exists today and all future updates, major and minor — for one year. If you want updates thereafter, another year is $ 49.99. It is not clear if you are allowed to skip years while keeping the $ 49.99 price, or if you must keep resubscribing every year or buy the entire program again.
In the event that you stop paying the yearly update fee, you keep full access to the program as it exists the day you bought it. The question of how good of a deal this is really comes down to how rapidly Topaz improves the application. So far this year, it really has improved a lot — but it’s also got a long way to go.
Anyone considering this application should download the free trial first and test how it performs on your content. Be aware that you might wind up climbing under the hood with a wrench to bang on the video before you run it through the program. If you need to deinterlace footage, for example, that needs to happen outside the upscaler.
Topaz Video Enhance AI is effectively early-access software — in effect, if not in name. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the early access model, especially when the entire market is so new, we don’t have effective competition yet. But I also don’t want to plug this application as being astonishingly effective for my purposes without also noting that this program is not, strictly speaking, all that newbie-friendly. The MP4 encoding option tends to drop audio, which means it’s best to learn how to use FFMPEG to reassemble video from constituent frames. Use Topaz Video Enhance AI to render out to PNGs or JPG, and there’s no problem at all (this method also recovers more easily, since interrupted MP4 encodes can’t be resumed).
Topaz Video Enhance AI is a unique, interesting application and I’m eager to see where it goes, but I don’t want to paint the picture rosier than it ought to be. There’s not so much a learning curve around the program as there is a learning curve around the other things you need to do to use Topaz Video Enhance AI at peak capability. Either way, be aware it exists. If your content aligns well with its capabilities, the results can be incredible. If it doesn’t, it might not be worth investing in until the app gets some additional development time under its belt. Take advantage of the free trial and allow for the idea that you might wind up astonished. Also, allow for the idea that you hope to be astonished in about two years, once all the kinks are worked out.
US video game spending surged over the past six months, driving $ 6.6B in sales thus far in 2020. The last time the video game industry made more money over the same period was 2010, when sales hit $ 7B.
JUNE 2020 US NPD THREAD – June 2020 tracked spending across Video Game hardware, software, accessories and game cards totaled $ 1.2 billion, gaining 26% when compared to a year ago. This is the highest tracked spend for a June month since $ 1.3 billion was reached in June 2009. pic.twitter.com/VliGtYt4sc
According to NPD, June sales were similarly stratospheric. NPD tracks data on video game hardware sales, software sales, and accessories + game cards. Total sales across all three segments was $ 1.2B, broken into $ 417M for accessories and game cards, $ 570M for software, and $ 191M in hardware sales.
US NPD VG – Year-to-date tracked spending across Video Game hardware, software, accessories and game cards reached $ 6.6 billion, an increase of 19% when compared to a year ago. This is the highest total for the year-to-date period since $ 7.0 billion was achieved in 2010. pic.twitter.com/r1DlD7OIfM
Hardware sales are still down compared with earlier in the Xbox One / PS4 life cycle. But with both the PS5 and Xbox Series X launching later this year, fewer people are going to be interested in buying either older platform. Microsoft has already ended production of the Xbox One X and Sony may follow suit with the PS4 Pro.
US NPD SW – The Last of Us: Part II was June’s best-selling game, and instantly becomes the 3rd best-selling game of the year. The Last of Us: Part II now ranks as the 8th best-selling game of the twelve month period ending June. pic.twitter.com/z1ATwFE11b
A great deal of the sales volume was driven by The Last of Us, which went on sale in June and instantly became the third best-selling game of the half-year and the 8th best-selling game over the previous 12 months. It generated more first-month sales than any 2020 title has to date, and is the second-biggest game launch in history, right behind Marvel’s 2018 Spider-Man.
Is the Console Market Shrinking?
NPD doesn’t formally blame coronavirus for the surge of gaming sales, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that they’re obviously tied to each other. What’s more interesting is that it took a worldwide pandemic to drive video game sales almost up to the level of 2009 – 2010.
I pulled console sales data from VGChartz and compared overall console sales. Let me acknowledge up front that there’s no perfect way to do this. It’s easy to compare the Xbox 360 + PS3 against the Xbox One + PS4, but Nintendo doesn’t refresh at the same time that the other two companies do.
I’ve compared Xbox One, PS4, and Switch for modern systems and Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, and 3DS for the older models. There’s an argument to be made for including both the Wii and the DS, but the DS is the best-selling video game platform of all time, and while the Wii sold a huge number of consoles, including both of these in our comparison would overwhelmingly tilt the scales in favor of the “Nobody buys consoles the way they used to” in a way that I don’t feel is fair. Also, stepping back to the Wii U and DS requires going back two generations for Nintendo products, while only going back one generation for Sony and Microsoft.
If we only compare Sony + Microsoft, the gap in sales is smaller, but within 8 percent. If we compare across a larger set of consoles, the older hardware sold 1.19x better over its lifetime than the Xbox One, Switch, and PS4 have collectively sold to date. Nintendo may sell another 42 million Switches before all is said and done, but it won’t do so for a few more years yet.
I’m not sure price explains this — the overall cost of modern consoles seems quite comparable with previous generations. I think the data we have here on comparative performance is interesting, but not necessarily indicative of an overall trend. The combined sales of the 3ds + Wii U dwarf the Switch, but given how Nintendo has combined form factors, you no longer have to buy two Nintendo platforms at all.
There are rumblings on the horizon that these new consoles might be significantly more expensive than what we’ve seen before; Sony is said to have limited production for reasons of cost, not COVID-19, though a more recent rumor states the company has boosted its orders by 50 percent. Microsoft is keeping the low-cost Xbox One S around and planning to launch two consoles if you believe the rumors. Put it all together and we could be headed for some significant price increases. If consoles are going to shed players, they’ll probably do it there…or the entire generation may get off to a slow start due to ongoing financial woes.
Back in 2005, Microsoft, Sony, and other game developers collectively decided the new standard price for a video game would rise, from $ 49.99 to $ 59.99. For the past 15 years, retailers have avoided punching through that number, even as inflation reduced its value in absolute terms. Now, 2K has raised the price of its upcoming NBA 2K21 to $ 69.99 for the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. If you want to buy the game for both platforms, it’ll cost $ 99.99 for the “Mamba Edition” to do so.
This could be an arguable positive. Adjusted for inflation, the price of a $ 59.99 game in 2005 should have risen to $ 77.84 already. A $ 69.99 price is only a $ 10 increase, and it’s unlikely to break the bank. It’s no accident that the long pause between price increases has coincided with the rise of alternative funding models, including crowdsourcing, increasing use of DLC, aggressive efforts to push customers towards pre-ordering, microtransactions, and loot crates. Gamers have not greeted all of these innovations with open arms. Game publishers have made some particularly egregious attempts to ring money out of the community like a dishrag. Raising the price of games by $ 10 could be a good thing if it led to fewer predatory tactics.
If history is any indication, we may be less likely to see these kinds of walk-backs than people might like. There’s no talk of reducing the use of microtransactions, while the release trailer for NBA 2K20 last year drew multiple unflattering comparisons to a casino or pachinko parlor for how heavily it marketed these mechanics.
There’s a tempting narrative here about greedy publishers and hapless developers trapped in months of crunch due to their leaders’ poor financial and game design decisions. But the situation is more complex than that. Game developer Ralph Koster, lead designer of Ultima Online and the creative director behind Star Wars Galaxies, has published multiple blog posts on the finances and challenges of building games. His website is an excellent resource — not many game development presentations from 2005 can claim to be great resources in 2020, but he’s got an online discussion of “Moore’s Wall” that I’d still recommend giving a look (mousing over the slides will display the talk transcript).
On the subject of game development’s increasing expenses, he writes:
‘Too expensive’ isn’t a measure of just cost though, it’s a measure of risk. As costs have risen, we have seen massive consolidation across the industry… As costs have risen, third parties have either died when they overextended trying to reach the quality bar, or they were absorbed by the larger companies. Publishers overextended by banking on major franchises, and when one didn’t hit, went away.
This cycle tends to reset only when new technology platforms come along that don’t let you do expensive productions because they don’t have the graphics horsepower. Mobile was like that, so was Flash gaming. But as soon as you can overspend on graphics, it becomes mandatory, and then the spiral starts.
He dives into why microtransactions and similar content models exist, and how they interact with price thresholds and psychology. Put simply, cheap DLC, cosmetics, and the like offer content that’s inexpensive enough for people to want to buy it. Some games have adopted a free-to-play model in an effort to grow their user bases, while others, like NBA 2K21, combine microtransactions and a base $ 70 price. In both cases, though, the goal is the same: The developer is trying to nudge players into spending more money over time. In many cases, the reasons they’re chasing more revenue is that games-as-a-service incur ongoing costs and the price of building games and marketing them has been increasing every generation for decades.
A $ 69.99 price point for video games will recoup a little more revenue for developers and publishers, but according to the sources in the industry we’ve spoken with, DLC and microtransactions tend to be extremely profitable and critically important to the perpetually rising costs of game development. The advent of indie games may also make it easier for gamers to swallow the $ 10 price increase — there are now many, many titles available for prices ranging from $ 0 – $ 40, and it doesn’t long for new titles to go on sale. A game selling for $ 69.99 in January may well be on sale for $ 30 – $ 50 by the end of the year.
I don’t think gamers are going to go nuts over a $ 10 increase after a 15-year pause in game pricing. But I think the advent of more expensive games would go down better if people didn’t feel relentlessly nickel and dimed already.