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Microsoft Will Bring Its Excellent Xbox Auto HDR Feature to PC Gaming

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Microsoft has announced it will bring the Xbox’s Auto HDR feature over to Windows 10. Over 1,000 titles will have HDR support retroactively added, vastly expanding the reach of the feature inside the PC ecosystem.

This is a great announcement for PC gaming. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the current HDR situation on PC sucks. Historically, PC gamers have prided themselves on the superior rendering capabilities and cutting-edge features available for the platform. Heck, demos like Half-Life 2: Lost Coast were available for PC over a decade ago. So why all the problems now?

HDR as implemented by Lost Coast used software algorithms to create the illusion of high dynamic range on standard dynamic range (SDR) displays. The situation today is rather different. The current TVs and monitors that offer HDR support today do so by offering a larger luminosity range and higher peak brightness than conventional panels. There’s a genuine level of hardware support today that didn’t exist 15 years ago, but it’s almost entirely focused on the console side of the industry. Monitor manufacturers have not moved to add HDR as a feature the way TV manufacturers have, and many games that support HDR on console don’t offer it as an option on PC.

Auto HDR for PC takes DX11 and DX12 games and converts them for HDR display on the fly, with no changes required. Future versions of Windows will have a toggle option to enable and disable the feature.

It’s not as good as a native HDR implementation, and Microsoft isn’t promising otherwise. The image above shows a comparison between the luminance of a standard display, how AutoHDR adjusts it, and finally what a native HDR implementation might look like. AutoHDR plays things conservatively, which is preferable to risking a game looking like a blown-out mess.

The HDR effect is subtle, but generally improves things.

Auto HDR on the Xbox Series X works beautifully. I’ve never found a reason to disable it. It subtly enhances the look of older games without causing brightness issues. Currently, the feature is only available to Windows Insiders, but anything rolling out to early testers now we’ll get wrapped into the main OS sooner or later.

Bringing AutoHDR to PC should help solve the typical chicken/egg problem that bedevils the rollout of new hardware features. Auto HDR may not offer the same experience as a native implementation, but it will give HDR monitor owners a suite of content they can actually enjoy. This should help speed the adoption of HDR overall, and hopefully, give more game developers a reason to implement native support. You can find instructions for how to join the Windows Insider program and enable the feature here. Keep in mind that Windows Insider builds are not supposed to be installed on your daily PC.

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How a 22-year-old woman helped bring down the Tokyo Olympics chief

When a 22-year-old Japanese college student launched an online campaign against the powerful Tokyo Olympics chief and the sexist remarks he made, she was not sure it would go very far.

But in less than two weeks, Momoko Nojo’s #DontBeSilent campaign organized with other activists and gathered more than 150,000 signatures, galvanizing global outrage against Yoshiro Mori, the president of Tokyo 2020.

He quit last week and has been replaced by Seiko Hashimoto, a woman who has competed in seven Olympic Games.

The hashtag was coined in response to remarks by Mori, an octogenarian former prime minister, that women talk too much. Nojo used it on Twitter and other social media platforms to gather support for a petition calling for action against him.

“Few petitions have got 150,000 signatures before. I thought it was really great. People take this personally too, not seeing this as only Mori’s problem,” said a smiling Nojo in a Zoom interview.

Her activism, born from a year studying in Denmark, is the latest example of women outside mainstream politics in Japan taking to keyboards to bring social change in the world’s third-largest economy, where gender discrimination, pay gaps and stereotyping are rampant.


Japan’s Olympic Minister, Seiko Hashimoto, right, talks with Yoshiro Mori at a meeting in December. Hashimoto has been named Mori’s replacement as president of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee. (Associated Press)

‘Good opportunity to push for gender equality in Japan’

“It made me realize that this is a good opportunity to push for gender equality in Japan,” said Nojo, a fourth-year economics student at Keio University in Tokyo.

She said her activism was motivated by questions she has often heard from male peers like, “You’re a girl, so you have to go to a high school that has pretty school uniforms, don’t you?” or “Even if you don’t have a job after graduating from college, you can be a housewife, no?”

Nojo started her nonprofit “NO YOUTH NO JAPAN” in 2019, while she was in Denmark, where she saw how the country chose Mette Frederiksen, a woman in her early forties, as prime minister.

The time in Denmark, she said, made her realize how much Japanese politics was dominated by older men.

Keiko Ikeda, a professor of education at Hokkaido University, said it was important for young, worldly people to raise their voice in Japan, where decisions tend to be made by a uniform group of like-minded people. But change will come agonizingly slowly, she said.

“If you have a homogeneous group, it’s impossibly difficult to move the compass because the people in it don’t realize it when their decision is off-centre,” Ikeda said.

Proposal dismissed as PR stunt

Nojo dismissed a proposal this week by Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party to allow more women in meetings, but only as silent observers, as a poorly-executed PR stunt.

“I’m not sure if they have the willingness to fundamentally improve the gender issue,” she said, adding that the party needed to have more women in key posts, rather than having them as observers.

In reality, Nojo’s win is only a small step in a long fight.

Japan is ranked 121st out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Index — the worst ranking among advanced countries — scoring poorly on women’s economic participation and political empowerment.

Activists and many ordinary women say drastic change is needed in the workplace, and in politics.

“In Japan, when there’s an issue related to gender equality, not many voices are heard, and even if there are some voices to improve the situation, they run out of steam and nothing changes,” Nojo said.

“I don’t want our next generation to spend their time over this issue.” 

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Support for essential workers could bring COVID-19 under control faster in Canada, doctors say

Doctors are calling for more supports for essential workers facing “life-or-death” inequities, saying it will do more to control coronavirus outbreaks than high-profile punishments of those who break the rules.

COVID-19 has exacerbated existing problems — not only among long-term residents bearing the brunt of deaths from the virus — but also for people struggling to get by despite working on the front lines on farms, in warehouses and grocery stores.

Now, these vulnerable workers can face additional challenges from authorities such as breaking Quebec’s curfew order or living in cramped, poorly ventilated quarters that make it easy for the coronavirus to spread. 

Nav Persaud, a family physician in Toronto who holds the Canada Research Chair in health justice, said he’s “dispirited” by how little attention inequity receives. 

“It’s always been a life-or-death issue, health inequities,” Persaud said. “People not being able to afford basic necessities like healthy food, medication, safe housing has always killed people and put people’s health in jeopardy.”


An Amazon warehouse north of Calgary in Balzac, Alta., that reported an outbreak of COVID-19 last spring. Doctors say warehouse workers need immediate access to paid sick leave to help control coronavirus outbreaks. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

He said much of the coronavirus transmission happening now in the Greater Toronto Area is from people going to work or interacting in ways that won’t be stopped by charging those holding large parties, for instance. 

“I think the people who benefit most from those punishments are the authorities, because they can exert their power and give off the impression that they’re being helpful when they’re not,” Persaud said. “It would be better if they were providing supports.”

In Toronto, Persaud said people who rely on public transit to get to work from priority neighbourhoods with a disproportionately higher number of COVID-19 cases may face long, crowded commutes on buses. That’s why the greater supports he’s seeking also includes extended public transit.

But providing more supports is harder for politicians from all levels to do than chastising individual rule breakers, he said. 

“I’m in favour of there being rules and the rules do need to be enforced, but I think these are relatively unimportant incidents in the grand scheme of things.”

A recent opinion article by three physicians points to how Ontario’s modelling showed three times more daily confirmed cases among communities with the most essential workers compared with communities with the least. Researchers in California reported a similar observation that hasn’t yet been peer reviewed by outside experts.

Call for supports to control outbreaks faster

Martha Fulford, an associate professor of infectious diseases at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., would like to see an immediate “liveable support” such as paid sick leave as a fundamental for essential workers. 

“It’s extremely easy to stay home and be in isolation for somebody like me. I have a big house, I have a big yard, I can click on Amazon and get my stuff delivered,” Fulford said. “But who’s delivering it? What choice does the person delivering to my house have?

“If we don’t provide the same sorts of supports for all the essential workers, this is never going to come under control.” 

Doctors say if essential workers are now a key driver of transmission then the coronavirus won’t be contained unless they’re able to stay home when sick or potentially exposed without having to worry about putting food on the table. 


Dr. Nav Persaud, seen here in 2018, favours rules to control the COVID-19 pandemic, but said some some infractions by individuals aren’t a priority, compared to broader supports that are needed. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Fulford also noted that the highest rates of transmission are among people living in crowded conditions or working in large warehouses

“I’m not an economist, I’m just a physician, but I can’t help but think in the long term, it would be far more cost effective to invest money in the areas where we’re seeing the highest transmission, and support them, than shut down an entire economy.”

Facilitate work from home when possible

Persaud said punishments such as charges and fines for violating COVID-19 safety rules often hit individuals rather than institutions such as employers. 

He sees the charges laid against Cargill for the country’s largest workplace outbreak in High River, Alta., as an exception and “a fairly extreme example.” The allegations haven’t been tested in court.

For other workplaces, Persaud suggested addressing larger, underlying issues contributing to outbreaks, such as office managers asking staff to come in to perform duties that could be done from the safety of home.

WATCH | Why Peel Region’s workplaces struggle with COVID-19 outbreaks:

Ontario’s Peel Region, just west of Toronto, has long been a hotspot for COVID-19, but the high number of warehouses and transportation facilities may be partly to blame. 2:15

Another recent high-profile case of charges being laid include a couple in Durham, Ont., east of Toronto, who are accused of obstructing contract-tracing efforts of public health officials investigating the introduction of the B117 variant of the coronavirus first identified in the U.K.

A third involves a penthouse owner in Vancouver who welcomed party goers. 

In contrast to charges, Fulford highlights a role model for countering conditions for outbreaks: hospitals.

“We have had hospital outbreaks and we’re not pointing fingers or getting angry because we understand, we do a root-cause analysis to figure out where we went wrong and we do better next time,” Fulford said.

Despite the best efforts of employers and workers, outbreaks can sometimes happen because of sheer bad luck.

Fulford said when an outbreak occurs in a workplace, bringing in infection prevention and control experts is a more productive approach than laying charges

“It’s a very unusual situation for me that we would be criminalizing public health interventions.”

Fulford said drug-resistant tuberculosis is one of the few instances that the Quarantine Act has been enforced for individuals. 

In the context of COVID-19, Fulford gives the example of someone who decides to meet family members from outside their household at a park and gets charged for breaking pandemic public health rules.  

In such a case, Fulford favours educating people and explaining why such behaviour is a problem to encourage them not to do it again — not naming and shaming. Otherwise, there could be unforeseen consequences for public health.

“Contact tracing is going to become a hundred times more difficult if the fear is that you’re going to be charged, your name is going to be in the newspaper.”

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AMD Will Bring Smart Access Memory Support to Intel, Nvidia Hardware

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When AMD announced its Smart Access Memory, it sounded as if the company had finally designed a method of allowing Ryzen CPUs and GPUs to specifically work together in order to deliver higher performance than either could achieve together. Our performance tests confirmed that SAM worked fairly well, but it hasn’t been clear if the future would be restricted to AMD-AMD CPU/GPU configurations or not.

Thanks to a recent PCWorld interview, we have an answer. According to AMD, it has people on the Ryzen team working to get SAM working on Nvidia GPUs, while there are people on the Radeon team working with Intel to get the feature functional with Intel CPUs and chipsets. If AMD is comfortable making this kind of announcement, it implies that there’s reciprocity in these arrangements, meaning we’ll see cross-platform, cross-vendor support, though we haven’t heard anything about Nvidia/Intel cooperation. It only makes sense for the two companies to work together, however, since the alternative amounts to giving AMD a free performance advantage.

This confirms that SAM isn’t an AMD-specific technology as such, though AMD has done the work of enabling the feature before anyone else did. Resizable BAR Capability (that’s the PCIe specification-name for SAM) was initially baked into the PCIe 2.0 standard in 2008 before being modified in revisions to PCIe 3.0 in 2016. Microsoft added support for the feature with Windows 10 when it introduced Windows Display Driver Model 2.0, but evidently, no GPU vendor supported it until now.

If this were an AMD-specific technology, one might suspect that the company had to design Zen 3 and/or RDNA2 to use it. The fact that support can apparently be extended to Intel and Nvidia hardware implies the feature either wasn’t viewed as being worth the trouble or that the companies in question weren’t aware it could deliver a real uplift in performance until someone actually tested it. The latter would be rather droll.

According to AMD, there’s some work required to support the feature appropriately, implying we may not see it enabled immediately on Intel and Nvidia platforms. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of performance we see other platforms and hardware pick up from enabling this capability — Intel might benefit more than AMD (or vice-versa) and AMD GPUs might benefit more than Nvidia cards or the reverse.

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NASA Awards Nokia $14.1 Million to Bring 4G LTE to the Moon

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Companies have been building cell towers all over Earth for decades, and yet, you still don’t have to look hard to find dead zones. Some people even live in places where they can’t get a bar to save their lives. Soon, the surface of the moon might even have better cell service than your living room. NASA has awarded Nokia $ 14.1 million to develop a lunar 4G LTE network for astronauts. 

The grant is part of NASA’s Tipping Point initiative to develop new technologies that support space exploration. The latest iteration of the program has a total value of $ 370 million. In addition to Nokia’s LTE plans, NASA has chosen to fund research into cryogenic fuel transfer technology at SpaceX, lunar oxygen extraction at Sierra Nevada Corporation, and more. 

NASA, of course, is planning ahead for the upcoming Artemis Program, which will see the first woman set foot on the moon. The communication systems currently in place rely on simple radio frequency signals. A true cellular network on the moon could provide much more reliable communication over a larger area. It could even be more efficient than LTE here on Earth because there are no obstacles (or air) to degrade the signal. 

Nokia’s Bell Labs says it will design the network in such a way that it will be upgradable to 5G in the future. The company hasn’t mentioned anything about frequencies, but there won’t be a lot of interference on the moon. Many of the coverage and reliability issues here on Earth are due to obstructions and crowded wireless spectrum. On the moon, NASA will have its pick of cellular bands. This might even be a viable use case for millimeter-wave 5G down the road. These signals are very fast but unreliable on Earth because they degrade quickly and can’t pass through walls—not many of those on the moon!

Moon-Feature

So, why not just use existing cellular tech on the moon? We can’t deploy terrestrial cell tower technology there because it’s a vastly more harsh environment. There’s no atmosphere, and temperatures range from 250 to -208 degrees Fahrenheit. The levels of radiation will also fry electronic components that are not hardened against it. Nokia hopes to develop hardware that will address all these issues without taking up too much space in cargo vessels. You’ve probably seen the transmitters atop towers here on Earth. They’re not very portable, and every ounce counts when you’re launching a rocket to the moon. 

The initial $ 14.1 million grant won’t get us all the way to streaming Netflix on the moon, but it will allow the company to demonstrate its technology. It can then pursue additional funding to bring LTE to the moon.

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Women’s hockey players hope to bring attention to pro game on Battle of the Blades

With the future of professional women’s hockey in flux, a trio of Canadians are set to strap on their skates to compete in CBC’s Battle of the Blades.

Meghan Agosta, Jennifer Botterill and Jessica Campbell will make their figure skating debuts next Thursday when the sixth season of the show premieres.

While toe picks and twirls have proven challenging in training, the women’s hockey troika hopes swapping hockey skates for figures skates brings attention to their primary sport.

“We want to get to that [point] where we are playing the game that we love, which is hockey, and we’re getting paid financially to support ourselves and our families,” Agosta, 33, said in an interview with CBC Sports’ Andi Petrillo.

Agosta played in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League before it discontinued operations in May 2019. The National Women’s Hockey League now stands as the lone pro organization.

WATCH | Agosta, Botterill, Campbell aim to highlight women’s game on BOTDB:

Jennifer Botterill, Jessica Campbell, and Meghan Agosta speak to the future of professional women’s hockey, and what a platform like Battle of The Blades can do for the sport. 6:49

After the CWHL folded, over 200 players formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association with a goal of creating a financially sustainable league that provides regular ice time, health insurance and other supports.

As such, those players opted out of the NWHL, instead playing in an exhibition showcase series they titled The Dream Gap Tour.

Agosta, of Windsor, Ont., participated at the 2020 NHL all-star game and skills competition, where she said Gary Bettman indicated he wanted one sustainable women’s league.

“It is only a matter of time and deep down I know truly that when they do give us that opportunity it’s going to be a successful thing and we’re going to showcase what women’s hockey is all about,” Agosta said.

For Botterill, sponsors, marketing and media are all part of the puzzle.

“I think they see this happening. It just may not happen with the snap of a finger,” Botterill, 41, said.

Ottawa’s Botterill was part of the creation of the CWHL in 2007. With the league now defunct, the NWHL added its first Canadian team with an expansion in Toronto.

“I see both sides of the story. I see the NWHL coming in to set the Toronto team and expanding to Canada which, we have people with a good vision and wanting to grow, but you also have the player’s association with most of the players believing there might need to be some adjustments for this long-term plan.”

WATCH | Kendall Coyne Schofield makes history at 2019 NHL skills competition:

Less than a month after setting the world on fire with her speed at the NHL Skills Competition, Coyne Schofield was back at it again as she took home the NWHL’s fastest skater crown with a time of 13.90 seconds. 1:16

Campbell, 28, played for the Calgary Inferno of the CWHL and made her national team debut in 2014.

The Moosomin, Sask., native said anyone who’s seen women’s hockey at the highest level knows it deserves to be treated as a legitimate pro sport.

“I think from the player’s perspective, they need to continue to show up and they need to pioneer and break down those barriers and be patient. And I know that it’s really hard but I know that they’re doing the right thing,” Campbell said.

‘You want to be them’

For Campbell, just putting women on the Battle of the Blades platform is a step in the right direction.

“It’s the Natalie Spooners, it’s the Tessa Bonhommes. You remember their face because you make that connection with them. You see their personality. You want to be them. You want to live their story and walk their path,” Campbell said. 

“I know for a fact that, to Jennifer and Meghan and I, we’re all on the same page and we’re doing this for our charities and our love for skating in such a fun way, but we’re trying to connect with our viewers and with the youth that are aspiring to walk our paths.”

Campbell is paired with ice dancer Asher Hill for the show, where she’ll be skating on behalf of Do It For Daron, which supports education, awareness and research initiatives that encourage young people to talk openly about mental illness.

Botterill will skate with two-time world champion pairs skater Eric Radford. Both are competing to win money for The Canadian Cancer Society.

Finally, Agosta will team up with three-time Canadian ice dance champion Andrew Poje and compete on behalf of the BC Children’s Hospital.

The sixth season of Battle of the Blades premieres next Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on CBC and CBC Gem.

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Nvidia Could Bring Ampere to Gamers for Just $5 a Month

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As we approach the launch of a new GPU cycle, the usual chatter about GPU prices has begun to tip up, with various rumors about how AMD and Nvidia will approach their own launches. There are signs that Nvidia may leverage its new Ampere GPUs in its GeForce Now service, potentially making the benefits of these cards available to gamers without requiring them to pay for an upgrade.

Cloud gaming/streaming services have existed for years now, but we haven’t seen upgraded hardware pushed as a major selling point, mostly because these services haven’t existed long enough to really need it. Nvidia, however, is well aware of the idea and is contemplating how it can use the idea to its own best advantage. In this regard, the fact that the company builds its own GPUs is a tremendous strength.

“We want GeForce Now to be an opportunity for gamers to experience the latest gaming technology from Nvidia.” Andrew Fear, Sr. product manager, GeForce Now, told PCGamer. “Therefore, you can expect to see Ampere on GeForce Now in time.”

Nvidia’s A1000 Ampere GPU. Consumer cards are expected soon.

Nvidia transitioned gamers from Pascal to Turing already, but I suspect that was likely to be a less impactful transition for two reasons. First, GeForce Now was itself much smaller than it is today and still in beta, with a limited number of ray tracing titles in the first place. With Ampere and AMD’s RDNA2 both debuting this year, we can expect to start seeing wider ray tracing uptake.

The advantage of potentially testing RTX Ampere via a service like GeForce Now for gamers who are still back on older GPUs is significant, especially with a new feature like ray tracing still in early deployment. The cost of GeForce Now is low, at $ 5 a month, and offers enthusiasts a chance to preview the upgrades they’d get by upgrading cards rather than paying top dollar to find out or trying to estimate improvements based on YouTube video or screenshots. There’s nothing stopping AMD from trying something similar, but Stadia seems an unlikely partner for the attempt given everything wrong with Google’s streaming service.

The big question, of course, is latency and whether your PC can connect smoothly to Nvidia’s servers to make good use of GeForce Now in the first place. But that’s going to be true whether NV upgrades to Ampere or not. For those who live in areas with good internet service, $ 5 per month to test drive Ampere as opposed to dropping hundreds of dollars on a new card could be a prudent way to try out the improvements of the next generation without committing to actually buying them. Pascal owners who skipped Turing are more likely to be in the market for an upgrade this fall. If your home internet can handle the latency, GeForce Now might be a good way to preview the upgrade in the future.

Nvidia’s comments do suggest they’ll prioritize channel deployments first, but that makes sense as well. Cloud gaming is still a very new idea and gamers are likely to be sensitive to being shoved off on to an online-only service. $ 60 per year instead of an $ 800-$ 1,200 purchase is a pretty solid deal given that most people don’t keep GPUs a decade, but the optics could still be bad. I’ll be curious to see if we start seeing more gamers subscribe to cloud gaming services even temporarily as a way of eyeballing new improvements before they pull the trigger on new cards. Even if you fully intended to stay a local gamer, using the cloud as a try-before-you-buy option is scarcely a bad idea.

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