Monthly Archives: May 2019

NVIDIA releases new drivers for Windows XP

Normally, new driver releases aren't worth much of a mention, but NVIDIA's recent ForceWare 163.71 (WHQL) release contains some adjustments and features worth noting. According to NVIDIA's driver page, the driver improves
SLI compatibility and performance in both DX9.0c and OpenGL 2.1 applications. It also adds PureVideo HD decode support for
the GeForce 8600, 8500, and 8400 GPU's, and it improves compatibility for a number of notable games, including BioShock,
Crysis, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Hellgate: London, Team Fortress 2, and World in Conflict. HangZhou Night Net

Taking a peak at the actual release notes (PDF), which weigh in at 68 pages, there are a few more interesting tidbits. Many of the compatibility updates for the GeForce 7 and GeForce 8 series involve various fixes to video playback or the correction of extremely specific bugs—one example being the following bug correction:

GeForce 7300 GT: Demo Medieval II: Total War—blue screen crash occurs when playing the game with Battle
map resolution set to 2500×1600 and with 4x AA enabled

Obviously, that's a minor bugfix not worthy of mention on the driver download's main page, but it also serves to demonstrate just how difficult it is to create a driver that functions perfectly in all cases and circumstances. NVIDIA also maintains an extensive list of bugs or issues that are considered "open", which means the issue exists, but either hasn't been fully investigated as of yet, may not be caused by an NVIDIA product, or may have workarounds available.

The bottom line is that if you're having a game or application-related issue that you even suspect may be related to an NVIDIA card or product, it's a good idea to check the full release notes for that particular driver. There's actually an immense amount of information available, and while there's no guarantee a newly released driver will contain precisely the fix you're looking for, you can at least search the release notes to see if NVIDIA has collected any data on the problem.

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Nokia bets $8.1 billion on location-based services with NavTeq purchase

When GPS maker TomTom bought mapmaker Tele Atlas for $2.5 billion back in July, the writing was on the wall for rival mapmaker NavTeq. Now, the other shoe has dropped with Nokia's announcement today that it intends to buy NavTeq for the very hefty price of $8.1 billion in cash and debt. Wall Street arched an eyebrow at the size of the offer, as Nokia's stock tumbled a few points in early trading. But Nokia wants to ensure a supply of maps for its growing line of always-connected tablet and phone devices, future iterations of which will be GPS-enabled. HangZhou Night Net

Tele Atlas and NavTeq are by far the two largest companies in the mapmaking market, with the former providing the maps for TomTom and the latter supplying Garmin. The $2.5 billion price that TomTom paid for Tele Atlas is a steal compared to what Nokia is planning to shell out for NavTeq.

At WiMAX World, Nokia was showing off a Cooper Mini
with a Nokia tablet integrated into the dash.

Nokia says that it plans to run NavTeq as an independent business unit, so it seems that NavTeq will continue to license maps to customers like Garmin and Google for the time being. Indeed, NavTeq is profitable (a major reason for its high price), while the GPS-based portion of Nokia's business is still in its infancy. So it's likely that Nokia will want to continue to generate revenue with NavTeq for quite some time in order to defray the cost of the purchase, at least until the company increases the number of GPS-enabled offerings in its product mix. In the near term, then, this purchase is more about ensuring a supply of map data than it is about cutting off rivals.

In the long term, GPS is rapidly becoming a checkbox feature for almost any mobile gadget, so the future of GPS lies not in selling GPS-enabled hardware (everyone's doing that) but in location-based services. Nokia's purchase of NavTeq will provide a foundation on which the company can place a suite of location-based services that it will either build or buy. That way, when the end of 2008 rolls around and everyone is peddling a small mobile gadget with a large, bright LCD, GPS functionality, and an array of wireless connectivity offerings, Nokia will be positioned to compete in the next stage of the game, a stage that will be defined not by device features but by networked services.

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World of Warcraft 2.2 patch hoses Audigy and X-Fi owners

Last Tuesday Blizzard released a patch for World of Warcraft, bringing the game's client up to version 2.2. News is now surfacing that this update has wreaked havoc with the audio for gamers with Creative Audigy and X-Fi soundcards. Creative places the blame squarely on Blizzard's shoulders: HangZhou Night Net

Blizzard recently made changes to the WoW client that have impacted the audio experience significantly. Our developer relations group were given minimal advance warning that these changes were about to occur, and our subsequent requests to Blizzard for clarification as to why the changes were made have gone unanswered…

Many Creative soundcard owners are pointing out that their audio experience is nowhere near as compelling as it used to be, which is a great shame. We will continue to seek a better resolution to the current situation with Blizzard. In the interim, we would encourage Creative soundcard owners to let Blizzard know that they would very much like to have their audio experience restored to its former glory.

Creative claims to have worked with the audio middleware World of Warcraft uses and they have "…already implemented a hardware audio path that enables 3D audio mixing and DSP based effects processing on Audigy and X-Fi cards." The Creative representative makes specific mention of how well BioShock used this hardware path and describes it as "…relatively straightforward for developers to support."

Creative reports that Blizzard has not taken them up on any of Creative's offers to help enable this hardware audio path in the World of Warcraft client.

Users have reported various levels of impact: no sound, no character voices, garbled audio, etcetera. For the time being most impacted gamers will remain in limbo but one adventurous fellow has published a registry edit that he claims resolved the issue completely. As with all registry editing, attempt at your own risk.

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Joost finally sheds invite-only status, opens up to the public

P2P video service Joost quietly slipped its 1.0 beta for Mac and Windows out the door late last week, and we were curious as to why there was no fanfare for the (almost) 1.0 release. It turns out that the team was holding off on the celebrations for today, as it has announced via the Joost blog that Joost is now open to the public. No longer will curious testers be forced to beg their friends for Joost invites (does this mean I will stop getting a steady stream of e-mails requesting invites too?) as anyone who wants to watch the streaming video channels can now do so at their leisure. HangZhou Night Net

Joost sprang forth from the minds of Skype's Janus Friis and Kazaa's Niklas Zennström last year, dubbed originally as The Venice Project. The service was launched with the goal of offering ad-supported television content over the Internet, but through a distributed streaming model like that of BitTorrent—instead of pulling video content from a central server, it would instead stream it from multiple users around the 'Net. The P2P service opened up to its first small group of beta testers in December and was renamed to Joost this January.

Since then, Joost has been slowly ramping up. Media giant Viacom signed a deal with Joost in February that would allow the service to broadcast shows from MTV, BET, Comedy Central, and even a few movies from Paramount. The move came just after Viacom walked away from talks with YouTube and just before it filed its $1 billion lawsuit against the site for "brazen" copyright infringement. CBS was next to hop on board with Joost with a few of its shows; CNN joined the party in May with content from Larry King Live and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Major League Baseball also inked a deal with Joost just last week, allowing the video service to stream the upcoming MLB playoffs within 24 hours of initial airing.

While many of those shows are popular with viewers, Joost is still extremely limited in its content selection—most users cannot survive on Larry King and Adult Swim alone. The video service may be free, but the lack of fresh content is still driving many TV aficionados to paid services like the iTunes Store to get a much wider selection of shows or the world of BitTorrent for an even wider selection sans cost.

There's also still the dilemma of getting that content onto the actual television set. A recent survey by Accenture showed that the majority of Internet users would rather watch video downloads on the TV instead of on their monitors, which is something that Apple, Microsoft, and even Amazon are attempting to do with the Apple TV, Xbox 360, and TiVo, respectively. Joost has yet to find an official hardware partner, however, which means that users who want to watch Joost programming on the TV will need to use an HTPC. That's a fine solution for the tech-savvy audience, but it has a very limited reach when it comes to the general population.

Joost's public debut is sure to net a number of new users who were unable to score invites during the service's private beta period. But until Joost manages to sign on more content partners and figures out a way to make its way to the TV screen, it will find itself fighting an uphill battle against competing video services.

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Bought with an arm and a leg, Skype bleeding cash and looking for new CEO

When eBay bought Skype for a cool $2.6 billion just over two years ago, many of us wondered how eBay planned to make money from the service. It looks as though eBay has not quite figured out the answer to that question, as the company revealed in an SEC filing that it will take $1.4 billion in charges related to the calling service in the third quarter. Clearly, there are problems at Skype. HangZhou Night Net

eBay is also shaking up Skype's management team. Skype cofounder and CEO Niklas Zennstrom will leave the CEO position to become nonexecutive chairman (and presumably to devote more of his energies towards Joost). Skype president Henry Gomez will become eBay's senior VP for corporate affairs, while current eBay chief strategy officer Michael van Swaajj will keep the Skype CEO's chair warm until a permanent replacement for Zennstrom is found.

Regular Skype users (a group of which I am a member) swear by the service. Like many others, I got hooked during the company's promotion last year that allowed US-based users to make free long-distance calls to any phone number in the US and Canada. Once the promotion expired, I gladly ponied up the $29.95 for another year's worth of SkypeOut calls.

In recent months, however, the company has been dogged by performance issues, chief of which was a "perfect storm" that led to a 30-hour Skype outage. Skype says it has addressed the problem, which it indicated was caused by a massive number of PCs rebooting in the wake of an update from Microsoft along with a high usage load. Combined, it highlighted a flaw in Skype's self-healing algorithm. More recently, Skype became the infection vector for a troublesome piece of Windows malware.

As a sign of how disappointing Skype has been for eBay in the months since the acquisition, consider the high hopes for the service that were part of the original acquisition deal. In addition to the $2.6 billion price tag, eBay faced the possibility of making an additional $1.7 billion in payments if the service hit certain financial targets during 2008 and 2009. That won't happen now, as $530 million of the $1.4 billion charge announced today is an "earn out settlement" that will satisfy eBay's obligations under the purchase agreement.

When the news of the acquisition went down in September 2005, a number of us were left scratching our heads and wondering how eBay planned to make enough off of Skype to justify the massive purchase price. There were grand plans to integrate Skype calling into auction listings, but those have yet to come to fruition. Looking at eBay's financial performance, it's clear that Skype has contributed relatively little to the online auctioneer's bottom line. During the last quarter, Skype's revenues of $90 million accounted for only 5 percent of eBay's total revenues.

eBay has made a number of moves in an attempt to raise the profile of Skype. You can now buy Skype phones at your friendly neighborhood big-box retailer, and the VoIP provider launched a conference calling service last year that it hoped would add to its user base.

With Skype boasting over 220 million registered users as of July—a number that is almost double that of the prior year—the service's popularity isn't an issue. The issue is converting that massive user base into a larger revenue stream, and eBay will now turn its attention to finding a CEO for the company that can do just that.

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