Features http://www.maximumpc.com/taxonomy/term/31/ en Microsoft’s HoloLens Has the Potential to Be Transformative http://www.maximumpc.com/microsoft%E2%80%99s_hololens_has_potential_be_transformative2015 <!--paging_filter--><h3>We tried Microsoft's augmented reality demo and couldn’t stop smiling</h3> <p>Many suspected that Microsoft would toss its hat into the virtual reality headset game. After all, Oculus VR was successful enough with its Kickstarter campaign that Facebook ended up purchasing it for $two billion, and longtime console rival Sony jumped into the fray not long ago with its Project Morpheus. While Microsoft did reveal its own head-mounted display, the HoloLens isn’t competing in the VR space, but is instead paving new paths for augmented realities. We got a chance to try it ourselves and you’re probably wondering, “Is it any good?” Simply put, if it's executed correctly, it has the potential to be transformative.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/microsoft_hololens_rgb.png" alt="hololens" title="hololens" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>A prototype sample of Microsoft's Hololens headset.</strong></p> <p>How does an AR headset differ from a VR headset? Whereas VR headsets try to take you into a virtual world completely, Microsoft’s augmented reality HoloLens is happy to keep you in reality. It instead opts to inject virtual holograms into your own real-life world (think the Princess Leah hologram and you pretty much get the idea). “This is your world with holograms,” Microsoft said of the device at its Windows 10 keynote. Unlike the fictitious technology in Star Wars, however, here you have to wear a headset. The HoloLens has a see-through visor, and augmented reality objects are beamed into a rectangle in front of you. The rectangle isn’t all-encompassing, however. You’ll still be able to see around the rectangle. The visual box is akin to you sitting in the middle of a movie theater, in that you can see more than just the screen. Technically, you can also see through this rectangle, considering it’s a see-through glass-like material, but we must say that Microsoft has done an incredible job making the area behind the rectangle disappear. We had to stick up a hand in front of our face to make sure that we could still see through it, and even then it was hard not to focus on the augmented reality visuals right in front of us.</p> <p>While our developer kit unit was wired and featured a chest mount tethered to a janky-looking headset (so janky that Microsoft wouldn’t let us take pictures of it), the company says that the consumer version of the HoloLens will be completely wireless and will not require a separate device, like a smartphone or computer. Nor will it require markers or have an external camera, even though it supports positional head-tracking. Instead, it will run Windows 10 itself and has its own dedicated CPU, GPU, and a new holographic processing unit (HPU) that processes all of these sensors together in real time. Another little dev-kit quirk is that Microsoft had to measure the distance between our eyes to properly configure the headset to our needs. The company says this will be handled automatically with the consumer release.</p> <p>The headset also has integrated speakers that provide spatial sound and a built-in mic that will allow you to issue voice commands. In addition, Hololens has an integrated depth sensor, supports stereoscopic 3D, and can track your finger gestures (provided they are in your line of sight). Activating a command is as easy as holding your right fist one foot away from your chest (with your knuckles facing you), lifting your index finger up to the ceiling, and flicking up and down with said finger. Slightly weirder was that you don’t control the headset’s cursor with your finger; instead, the cursor is always fixated in the middle of your vision, so you essentially use your eyes to point at objects. It took us about five minutes to get the hang of it.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/microsoft_hololens_family_room_rgb.jpg" alt="minecraft ar" title="minecraft ar" width="620" height="413" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Minecraft-inspired demo looked nearly as good as this picture depicts.</strong></p> <p>At the Windows 10 event, Microsoft showed off four HoloLens demos. The first one we tried was called HoloBuilder. It’s essentially a Minecraft-inspired augmented reality demo. We were situated in a living room with the headset on, and when we looked around, the various desks and coffee tables had virtual 3D buildings and structures situated on top of them. The blending of the real and virtual was seamless and truly impressive. It never felt like the augmented reality objects were inappropriately floating in space, or didn’t have a sense of presence to them. It felt like all the Minecraft castles and farmlands were actually there (albeit in virtual miniature LEGO form). We couldn’t help but shout out expletives at how unbelievable it felt at times; we were blown away. One of the picture frames in the room featured a cavern and it really felt like we could stick our arm into the cave. The 3D depth here is amazing. Another experience had us looking at a short table on the floor. On top of the table were blocks of TNT that we could look at and explode with our activate finger gesture. When we blew up the box of dynamite, we saw the virtual earth open up to reveal magma underneath the floor. This might sound like hyperbole, but it looked so incredibly convincing that we had to step on it ourselves to make sure it wasn’t actually there.&nbsp;</p> <p>The next demo we attended had Microsoft representatives showing off the HoloLens’s HoloStudio tool. Microsoft believes that this program will bring about a “new medium for artistic expression and creation.” HoloStudio is the company’s tool that will allow you to use Hololens to easily create 3D augmented reality objects, using simple hand gestures and voice commands. From here, you’ll be able to get these objects 3D printed. Microsoft says HoloStudio represents a “perfect print preview for 3D printing.” This tool essentially blends the physical and digital worlds. We saw a live demo of a Microsoft employee building a virtual toy koala in under two minutes. The toy looked impressive, but perhaps more impressive is that, according to Microsoft, the employee didn’t have any 3D modeling experience prior to prepping for the demo. He also showed us a 3D model of an X-Wing that looked accurate to the Star Wars incarnation. According to the rep, it only took him about an hour and a half to build it. The company says it wants to make building 3D objects easy for beginners; you won’t have to be a professional 3D artist to construct interesting designs. In the live HoloStudio live demo, the Microsoft rep was able to pull objects out from a virtual toolbox and copy/reorient them with simple tap/voice commands. The software looks promising, but unfortunately Microsoft couldn’t tell us if it would be bundled for free with the purchase of HoloLens.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/dsc02559.jpg" alt="koala" title="koala" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>&nbsp;Here is a 3D printed figure of what the virtual koala looked like.</strong></p> <p>The following demo took us to space—Mars, specifically. Microsoft has been working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs to recreate a 3D rendering of Mars using Curiosity's images. While our physical body was located in an office in Bellevue, Washington, it felt like we were walking on the red planet. When we asked if any of the landscape were computer rendered, the Microsoft rep told us that all the imagery was actually from Mars, and that it was the closest man has ever come to walking on the planet. Suffice it to say our jaws hit the floor. It looked entirely realistic. Never did it feel flat or like images were being stitched together. We actually felt like we were on Mars (at least as best as a see-through augmented related lens can deliver). Microsoft also set up a tour guide in a different room to show us around the alien planet. Our tour guide was golden (picture the Silver Surfer, except gold). This is but one humanoid prototype Microsoft said it was working on. It had Superman-like laser beams pointing out of its eyes (minus the laser sound effects) that would point us in the direction of interesting objects spread throughout the desert terrain. By focusing in on objects, we could use the flick command to zoom in on surfaces. Again, the headset features positional head tracking, so we were able to get on our knees and closely observe the rocks underneath our feet. It was a surreal experience and we could definitely see NASA using this headset for more research.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/microsoft_hololens_skype_rgb.jpg" alt="skype hololens" title="skype hololens" width="620" height="423" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Who knew Skype could be so informative?</strong></p> <p>&nbsp;The final demo we took part in had us interfacing with a real human being over Skype. While that might sound less exciting than the other demos, it was actually pretty cool. The person on the other end of the line was going to help us repair a broken electric wall socket. Our Skype helper could see what we were seeing (as a function of the HoloLens), and she walked us through all the steps to fix the socket, connecting wires and all. We had a funny moment during this demo when she asked us to look down at the tools. We did what we were asked and looked at the virtual tools below her video feed. But she asked us to look down at the tools again, and we realized she meant the physical hammers and such on the desk beside us. It’s sort of crazy how the physical and digital are already becoming hard to distinguish in AR. Once we got that squared away, we pinned her video feed to the side of the wall socket (so that it wouldn’t float in the middle of our vision and obstruct our view of it). From there, she was able to give us very clear and precise instructions on how to fix the issue. It worked about as well as someone giving you instructions over the shoulder in real life. </p> <p>It’s extremely exciting to see examples of what AR will allow people to do. Obviously, helping someone fix an electrical socket over Skype is one of them, but you’ll also be able to get cooking lessons from your mom or learn how to fix a car from your dad, and so on. Virtual classes with one-on-one instruction seems like a natural next step. We see a lot of potential here in the professional world, too. It could potentially aid doctors in the ER or help soldiers avoid potential land mines in the field. Then, yes, of course, game opportunities abound. You could potentially do some unique eye-spy or hide-and-seek type games around your house or blast aliens as they start coming in from your kitchen. Microsoft says gaming will be a big component of HoloLens, but it will be up to the developers to push the boundaries of what’s possible with AR games. In addition, as we also saw with the Mars demo, virtual tourism could be a big thing.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/microsoft_hololens_mixedworld_rgb.jpg" alt="mixed world" title="mixed world" width="620" height="413" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>If pulled off correctly, HoloLens could be transformative.</strong></p> <p>Of course, virtual tourism may be better suited for VR experiences, where you are completely visually isolated from the outside world, and some people were bothered by the fact that you could see through and around the lens. It didn’t bother us, however. It was actually hard to stop smiling at points.</p> <p>When asked, Microsoft was coy about the technical aspects of the device. When we asked the HoloLens’s resolution, the answer was merely “HD.” In theory, this means 720p and up. Regardless, from our experiential test, we didn’t have any major issues with the resolution and thought it looked quite sharp for a developer kit. Of course, we’ll take higher resolution any day of the week, but the resolution that Microsoft is currently running seems ready for consumer release.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/microsoft_hololens_pivotpoint_rgb.jpg" alt="pivot" title="pivot" width="620" height="413" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>HoloLens could open up 3D modeling for beginners.</strong></p> <p>When will it be released? Microsoft says during the Windows 10 launch timeframe. As Microsoft aims to release Windows 10 sometime this year, you shouldn't have to wait too long to try it yourself.&nbsp;</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/microsoft%E2%80%99s_hololens_has_potential_be_transformative2015#comments ar augmented reality headset Hololens holostudio microsoft minecraft vr windows 10 News Features Thu, 22 Jan 2015 19:07:04 +0000 Jimmy Thang 29299 at http://www.maximumpc.com Best Free Photo Editing Software http://www.maximumpc.com/best_free_photo_editing_software_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3><span style="font-weight: normal;"><img src="/files/u162579/2014-10-27_02-25-38.png" alt="Photoshop Express Editor" title="Photoshop Express Editor" width="250" height="205" style="float: right;" /></span></h3> <h3><span style="font-weight: normal;">Free alternatives to Photoshop</span></h3> <p>It’s hard to justify paying for photo-editing software (like <a title="how to use photoshop" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/crash_course_learn_basics_adobe_photoshop_2015" target="_blank">Adobe Photoshop</a>) if you’re not a professional photographer, designer, or artist. Fortunately, there are a ton of capable, free alternatives. The list includes age-old standbys like GIMP along with relative newcomers like PicMonkey and Autodesk’s Pixlr.</p> <p>Keep in mind that what we look for in a photo editor might well be different from your personal requirements. A dad photographing his kids might just want basic exposure adjustment and rudimentary red-eye removal. An artist might need extensive control over individual layers of an image. Needs vary and something as basic as Paint might be all that’s required for a simple project where more complicated tools would just get in the way.&nbsp;</p> <h3><span style="font-weight: normal;">Paint</span></h3> <p>Microsoft Paint has been included in every single version of Windows and it’s useful for dumping the contents of your clipboard, cropping an image, and for some people: drawing <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2g5qbvb7F4" target="_blank">unbelievably realistic renditions of Santa Claus</a>. But try to adjust contrast or sharpness and you’ll find Paint severely lacking. There’s also the noticeable absence of any sort of layer system.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/2014-10-26_17-30-02_0.jpg" alt="Paint" title="Paint" width="600" height="420" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Simple, clean, and easy to use. Not very useful for advanced tasks.</strong></p> <p>Despite the lackluster feature set, Paint is fast and works well for very basic tasks. The ribbon-based interface should be immediately familiar to Windows users, and the obvious tools—pencil, paint bucket, text, erase, etc.—are a cinch to manipulate.</p> <p><strong>Final Word:</strong> Paint works well for what it is. If all you need is a simple way to crop, rotate, resize, and annotate images, this should work just fine.&nbsp;</p> <h3><span style="font-weight: normal;">GIMP</span></h3> <p><a href="http://www.gimp.org" target="_blank">GIMP</a> is the Audacity of photo editors. It’s been around forever and it’s one of the most feature-rich free photo editors available today. Unlike Paint, it’s got full layer support, a packed toolbox—with staples like the Clone Tool, Healing Tool, and a magic-wand style Fuzzy Select Tool—along with a <a href="http://registry.gimp.org" target="_blank">vast library of additional plugins</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/2014-10-27_02-33-23.jpg" alt="GIMP" title="GIMP" width="600" height="403" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>GIMP looks complicated because it is.</strong></p> <p>If anything, the sheer power of GIMP is it’s greatest downfall. As much as GIMP mimics the tried-and-true interface of Photoshop, it’s a program with a massive barrier to entry. Photoshop veterans might feel at home, but unaware users will need to spend time exploring the program to decipher icons—i.e., an X-Acto knife for the Crop Tool—and menu options.</p> <p>The sheer number of file formats supported by GIMP is a huge boon. The compatible extensions include basics like PNG files and JPEGs as well as Photoshop’s own .psd extension.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Final Word:</strong> GIMP is a definite front-runner with its incredible feature set and huge user base. If you can get past the sometimes confusing interface, GIMP is a great alternative to Photoshop.</p> <h3><span style="font-weight: normal;">Paint.net</span></h3> <p><a href="http://www.getpaint.net" target="_blank">Paint.net</a>&nbsp;began as a student project in 2004 at Washington State University. It has since evolved into an editor that can go toe-to-toe with GIMP and quite possibly Photoshop itself. It has full layer support and offers many of the same features that both GIMP and Photoshop users consider essential—the Clone Tool, a rudimentary Magic Wand, and all of the basics.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/2014-10-27_01-59-31.jpg" alt="Paint.net" title="Paint.net" width="600" height="358" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Yup, that's a history window. Paint.net has all of the features that most editors would consider essential in a clean interface.</strong></p> <p>Where it begins to set itself apart is its user interface. At first glance, it meshes well with the modern aesthetic of Windows 8. Individual toolbars and property windows are easily distinguishable and are relegated to distinct portions of the screen. Each is clearly labeled and only essential items are displayed onscreen by default.&nbsp;</p> <p>The application’s only real shortcoming is that it’s got fewer features than GIMP. Paint.net’s streamlined interface comes at the cost of quite a few features that haven’t yet been implemented.</p> <p><strong>Final Word:</strong> If you value ease of use and aesthetics over raw power, Paint.net is an amazing alternative to Photoshop. It may not be as expansive as GIMP, but it’s a huge leap over Microsoft Paint.</p> <p><em>Click through to the next page to see what we thought about Pixlr Editor, Picasa, Photoshop Express Editor, and PicMonkey.</em></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: normal;">&nbsp;</span></p> <h3><span style="font-weight: normal;">Pixlr Editor</span></h3> <p>Autodesk’s entry in the space is Pixlr. It’s available for free as a web app with native apps avilable for a wide variety of platforms. We took a look at the online-only incarnation, <a href="http://apps.pixlr.com/editor/" target="_blank">Pixlr Editor</a>, for this roundup since it’s a bit more fully featured.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/2014-10-27_03-09-03.png" alt="Pixlr" title="Pixlr" width="600" height="393" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>It looks a bit like an older version of Linux, but it's a capable editor.</strong></p> <p>Unlike both Paint.net and GIMP, Pixlr Editor exists entirely online. We’re not fans of this setup, but we were pleasantly surprised by the editor itself. The interface isn’t as clean or modern as Paint.net, but it’s got all of the options on display—the Navigator window is a particularly nice touch.&nbsp;</p> <p>Pixlr Editor has full support for layers and includes many of the options shared by GIMP, Paint.net, and Photoshop. In fact, the differences between Pixlr Editor and the rest are largely unimportant. It’s mostly a question of whether you’re comfortable using an online photo editor—although the lack of plugin support could be a deal breaker for some.</p> <p><strong>Final Word:</strong> Pixlr Editor is a surprise contender. It’s capable, fast, free, and works without any sort of installation.&nbsp;</p> <h3><span style="font-weight: normal;">Picasa</span></h3> <p><a href="http://picasa.google.com" target="_blank">Picasa</a>’s not exactly a photo editor as much as it as a photo management tool with rudimentary editing capabilities. Despite its dated interface and some general chunkiness, Google’s Picasa works as a stopgap tool to quickly edit photos with fun effects like film grain and filters—Lomo-ish is one of our favorites.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/2014-10-27_02-13-53.png" alt="Picasa" title="Picasa" width="600" height="451" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Think of Picasa as a lightweight verison of Lightroom. It's got basic photo editing with a slew of photo-management options.&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Even if it isn’t a real photo editor, the photo-management aspect of the application makes it a great choice for touching up large collections of photos quickly. Adding images to a library within Picasa gives you access to quick and easy controls for photography basics like redeye removal, automatic contrast, and straightening.</p> <p><strong>Final Word:</strong> It doesn’t stand up particularly well to programs like Paint.net or GIMP, but it should work just fine for people looking for a photo manager with some basic editing options built in.</p> <h3><span style="font-weight: normal;">Photoshop Express Editor</span></h3> <p>Here’s an advance warning: <a href="http://www.photoshop.com/tools" target="_blank">Photoshop Express Editor</a> is about as far from the real Photoshop experience as possible. Having established that, there are still good reasons that users would gravitate toward the official experience—even if it’s gimped. It’s clear that Adobe intends for Photoshop Express to be a gateway into purchasing the real thing because it exists entirely online—<a href="http://www.photoshop.com/products/photoshopexpress" target="_blank">native versions</a> are available, but they're more app than program—and can only manipulate a single image at a time.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/2014-10-27_02-25-38_0.png" alt="Photoshop Express" title="Photoshop Express" width="600" height="493" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Pixelizing an entire image isn't exactly the most useful effect, but it certainly makes for an interesting image.</strong></p> <p>The tools on offer include exposure control, a Crop &amp; Rotate tool, some rudimentary resizing options, and a few adjustments and effects. Despite the fact that you can only have a single image open at a time, Photoshop Express does give users a chance to use some of Adobe’s superior effects and adjustments—see the image above for a demonstration of the Pixelate effect.</p> <p><strong>Final Word:</strong> It’s almost ridiculous to consider Photoshop Express Editor a worthy contender after considering the huge number of worthwhile alternatives. The fact that it exists as a pop-up on a page says more than we ever could—although some of the effects are genuinely entertaining.&nbsp;</p> <h3><span style="font-weight: normal;">PicMonkey</span></h3> <p>While GIMP does its best Photoshop impression, <a href="http://www.picmonkey.com" target="_blank">PicMonkey</a> is content with being a bit of a novelty. Instead of offering users granular control over their images, PicMonkey lets editors add Overlays—clip art that ranges from arrows, stars, and hearts, to party hats, and sunglasses—text, and textures to images.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u162579/2014-10-27_02-43-41_1.jpg" alt="PicMonkey" title="PicMonkey" width="600" height="389" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><strong>Adding cowboy hats to random images is a lot more fun than you'd think</strong><span style="text-align: start;"><strong>—</strong></span><strong>especially with PicMonkey's space filter laid on top.</strong></strong></p> <p>Of course, it’s also got options to adjust exposure, rotate and crop, sharpen, resize, and add effects. Any self-serious editor will balk at the gaudy effect of PicMonkey’s Cross Process setting, but we loved the casual experience of editing with PicMonkey. It's designed well and caters to beginners who aren't concerned with gaussian blurs or layered effects. An otherwise sterling experience is marred by an overabundance of premium—Royale—features that require a $4.99/month subscription.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Final Word:</strong> If all you’re looking for is an easy way to spice up an otherwise boring photo, PicMonkey is probably your best bet. It has a huge catalog of fun effects and settings that puts Instagram to shame.</p> <h3><span style="font-weight: normal;">And the Winner is…</span></h3> <p>GIMP is our favorite free photo editor. It takes the cake over Paint.net because of the sheer number of features packed into its otherwise passable interface. &nbsp;It’s not as pretty as Paint.net, or as simple—or as fun—as PicMonkey, but it comes within striking distance of Photoshop at a price that's hard to beat. There are no paid upgrades, ads, or other freeware annoyances. On the flip side, you get access to a huge library of plugins that can expand GIMP to meet your potentially specialized needs.</p> <p>If all you’re looking to do is add a filter and change the exposure of a single image, PicMonkey is a great choice. It’s simple, easy, and pretty effective for a web-only editor. It's nothing like Photoshop, but that's a point in its favor in this case.</p> <p>Did we miss anything? What's your favorite free photo editor? Let us know in the comments!</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/best_free_photo_editing_software_2014#comments autodesk free photo editor gimp Paint Paint.net photo photoshop Photoshop Express picasa PicMonkey Pixlr Features Fri, 16 Jan 2015 19:58:16 +0000 Ben Kim 28785 at http://www.maximumpc.com Sound Supremacy: Six Gaming Headsets Reviewed http://www.maximumpc.com/sound_supremacy_six_gaming_headsets_reviewed2015 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Great sound is a gaming necessity—we put six hotshot headsets to the test</h3> <p>For a gamer, top-notch sound is just as important as great graphics. Fancy, polygon-pushing GPUs may get all the attention in gaming, but if you pair them with a crappy pair of speakers or a low-rent headset, you’re ruining the immersion and depriving yourself of a competitive advantage.</p> <p>Click <a title="gaming headset" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/best_gaming_headset_2013" target="_blank">here</a> to read our last roundup of gaming headsets.</p> <p>And if you do want excellent sound, a headset is the most practical way to go. Speakers are great, but they take up a lot of space, and unless you’re gaming in your own fortress of solitude, those window-rattling bass thumps might not be appreciated by your neighbors or family. A high-quality headset gets you right inside the game, keeping the outside world out and the gaming world in.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.opener15408_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.opener15408_small.jpg" width="620" height="470" /></a></p> <p>We’ve rounded up six high-end units from respected peripheral makers, and put them through the paces. We evaluated each one based on the unique features it brings to the table, as well as the three criteria we value most: comfort, build quality, and audio performance.</p> <h3>Roccat Kave XTD</h3> <p><strong>This big headset delivers true 5.1 surround sound</strong></p> <p>German gaming-gear company Roccat has been on the scene for a few years now, but is still making products like it’s got something to prove. Roccat’s newest headset, the Kave XTD, is a remarkably solid entry into the fast-growing “true 5.1” market.</p> <p>Unlike “virtual 7.1” headsets, a true 5.1 unit such as the Kave XTD actually has multiple drivers in each ear, so that sounds that come from behind you in the game actually hit your ear from behind in real life. The result is excellent positional audio—easily the best of any of the headsets we tested for this article. For games as well as movies, the bass-heavy mix and convincing surround sound really enhance immersion. For music, the Kave XTD is acceptable but doesn’t stand out from the crowd.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15364_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15364_small_0.jpg" alt="The Kave XTD’s earcups feature a small opening that widens on the inside, sealing you off from the outside world." title="Roccat Kave XTD" width="620" height="930" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Kave XTD’s earcups feature a small opening that widens on the inside, sealing you off from the outside world.</strong></p> <p>The Kave XTD includes a nicely designed desktop mixer with a built-in “soundcard.” The mixer allows you to adjust your equalization on the fly and, interestingly, can connect to your smartphone with Bluetooth. When you get a call, you just punch a button on the mixer, and you can take it on the headset. Our only gripe with the mixer is that the Kave XTD is permanently connected to it—there’s no way to use the headset by itself, or even to take them apart to store them.</p> <p>Like many other true 5.1 headsets, the Kave XTD has a bit of a weight problem. It has a super-cushy padded headband to distribute the force from those maximum-diameter earcups, but it still started to feel a little oppressive during longer play sessions. We’d certainly prefer a slimmer design, but at this point in time, a little extra weight and size is just part of the trade-off for “true 5.1.”</p> <p>The other part of the trade-off is price. You get a lot of headset for your money, but the $170 price tag makes the Kave XTD more expensive than a lot of great-sounding cans. Still, if you want a well-built pair, and prioritize surround-sound gaming and movies above music, the Kave XTD is a strong choice.</p> <p><strong>Roccat Kave XTD</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_8.jpg" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$170, <a href="http://www.roccat.org/ " target="_blank">www.roccat.org</a></strong></p> <h3>We’ve got you surrounded!</h3> <p>For a long time, surround sound and headsets were mutually exclusive. Headset manufacturers acknowledged the harsh reality that headphones, aka a pair of small speakers strapped to your dome, are by their nature a stereo experience. Even as 5.1 and 7.1 surround speaker setups started taking off in the home theater, and then with gaming PCs, nobody thought to market headsets as anything but stereo. All that has changed in the last couple of years, and now it’s hard to find a high-end headset that doesn’t claim to offer some sort of surround sound. Here’s a quick primer on the surround configurations you’re likely to encounter, and when they’re the right fit.</p> <p>7.1 Surround The hottest new trend in high-end headphones is being marketed as “Virtual 7.1” or even just “7.1 surround” headsets. Of course, these headphones still have exactly two drivers. The “7.1” label comes from the inclusion of built-in audio processing (these are always going to be USB headset or include a USB dongle or mixer) that takes a 5.1 or 7.1 surround signal from a game or movie, then mixes it down to two channels for the headset using techniques that create the illusion of three-dimensional sound. Of course, your game will do that by itself if you set it to output stereo audio, but the processing in a good pair of headphones will be better tuned to create positionality in a headset. The difference is noticeable, but not dramatic.</p> <p>5.1 Surround 5.1 surround headsets, on the other hand, actually physically include multiple physical drivers in each earcup for better sound positionality. This can make a big difference, particularly with picking out whether sounds are coming from in front of or behind you. The trade-off with true 5.1 headsets is that they tend to be expensive, large, and heavy. Further, the multiple smaller speakers usually don’t have quite the same dynamic range as the single large driver found in each earcup of stereo cans, making these inferior for listening to music.</p> <h3>Plantronics RIG</h3> <p><strong>A gaming headset for the smartphone generation</strong></p> <p>The RIG’s main selling point is that it’s a headset that does double duty—you plug your gaming hardware and your cell phone into a single mixer, then toggle between the two simply by flipping a switch. Unlike the Bluetooth connection found in the Kave XTD, the RIG connects to the phone with an audio cable. It’s less convenient, but the physical connection makes switching back and forth feel a little more responsive.</p> <p>The mixer also includes a nice set of hardware switches for controlling both gaming and phone volume and other settings. The RIG can also be used as a straight-up phone headset, as it comes with an extra wire with an inline microphone, if you want to ditch the mixer and the boom mic entirely. It’s a nicely designed product all around, with a simple look that favors clean, circular elements. The earcups and headband are plainer-looking than a lot of the competition, but they’re comfortable and feel reasonably solid. The circular control pod is similarly attractive and feels nice and heavy on the desk. Its various buttons, toggle and sliders all feel durable and high-quality.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans._155443_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans._155443_small.jpg" alt="The RIG can be detached from the desktop mixer for use on the go." title="Plantronics RIG" width="620" height="851" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The RIG can be detached from the desktop mixer for use on the go.</strong></p> <p>The RIG mixer is an interesting hybrid in that it uses your onboard analog ports but separates the microphone into a USB input. The mixer has three preset equalizer levels, but the stereo sound quality on the whole is neither outstanding nor unacceptable. You can find headsets with better sound quality for $100, but we have to assume anyone buying the RIG is at least partially invested in its unique, phone-based feature set.</p> <p><strong>Plantronics RIG</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_7.jpg" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$100, <a href="http://www.plantronics.com/ " target="_blank"> www.plantronics.com</a></strong></p> <h3> <hr />CM Storm Pulse-R</h3> <p><strong>This aluminum-clad headset fails to make an impression</strong></p> <p>As a headset, the Pulse-R is pretty plain, aside from some nice-looking LED backlighting (which is not customizable, and necessitates an otherwise useless USB connection), and some removable aluminum cladding on the earcups. We’re all in favor of metal on our gaming hardware, but the aluminum here looks super cheap, particularly compared to the exposed steel in the headband. CMStorm advertises these aluminum plates as customizable, and they do indeed feature prominent hex screws if you’d like to swap them out, but we’re not totally sure what you’re meant to swap them out for.</p> <p>The headset’s construction feels solid, but we weren’t crazy about the earcup design. The squarish cans are an in-between <br />size—smaller than full circumaural cups, but a little larger than most on-ear earcups. We frequently found one or both ears getting bent out of shape while wearing the set. The leather earcups are nicely padded, but in all, we weren’t impressed with the set’s comfort.</p> <p>The Pulse-R also features a poorly executed inline control unit. It’s surprisingly large, with a cheap-feeling mute switch and volume slider. Despite the control’s huge size, the volume slider only has about 5mm of travel, making it pretty worthless for fine volume control.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15373_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15373_small.jpg" alt="The aluminum side plates on the Pulse-R are removable, but what you replace them with is anyone's guess." title="CM Storm Pulse-R" width="620" height="836" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The aluminum side plates on the Pulse-R are removable, but what you replace them with is anyone's guess.</strong></p> <p>Sound quality was toward the low end of this roundup, with bass that was powerful but not terribly clear. For music and movies, the sound quality was especially bad, producing muddled audio that sometimes made it hard to hear dialogue and higher parts.</p> <p>The CM Storm doesn’t fall terribly short in any one area, but consistent quality issues and questionable design choices leave us unable to recommend this as a smart purchase.</p> <p><strong>CM Storm Pulse-R</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_6.jpg" alt="score:6" title="score:6" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$90, <a href="http://www.cmstorm.com/ " target="_blank">www.cmstorm.com</a></strong></p> <h3>Tritton Kunai</h3> <p><strong>A light-weight headset for gamers on a budget</strong></p> <p>Selling for around $50, the Tritton Kunai sits right at the entry level for real, high-grade gaming gear. For products in this category, the question is always whether they’re actually a good option for budget-minded gamers, or if they’re just pretenders that managed to sneak out of the bargain bin. So, where does the Kunai land?</p> <p>First, let’s talk build quality. As you would expect with a cheaper headset, the Kunai cuts some corners on construction. In all, it’s all-plastic build feels perfectly fine, but two issues concern us: First, the headband is plastic throughout—there’s no steel core to the band. Second, the audio cable that’s attached to the headset is neither braided nor terribly thick. Both of these represent pretty easy ways the Kunai could wear out or break.</p> <p>The headset is very light, and surprisingly comfortable with its pair of well-padded, rectangular on-ear cups. Its flexible boom mic is removable, and the earcups swivel to more easily rest on your collarbones while not in use. Between the small, lightweight design, removable mic, and smartphone-ready audio cable, there’s a pretty compelling secondary use case for the Kunai as a portable headset that’s also good for playing games at home.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15381_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15381_small.jpg" alt="The Kunai is marketed as a gaming console headset, but it doesn’t have any console-specific features, other than audio-cable adapters." title="Tritton Kunai" width="620" height="891" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Kunai is marketed as a gaming console headset, but it doesn’t have any console-specific features, other than audio-cable adapters.</strong></p> <p>For this price range, sound quality on the Kunai is good. It can’t get anywhere near the clarity and power that some of the other headsets in this roundup offer, but that's what the extra $100 or so buys you. For at-home gaming use alone, you can find alternatives with better sound and features in this price range, as well. However, if you value light weight, portability, and value, the Kunai’s not a bad deal.</p> <p><strong>Tritton Kunai</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="http://www.maximumpc.com/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_7.jpg" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$50, <a href="http://www.trittonaudio.com/" target="_blank">www.trittonaudio.com</a></strong></p> <h3>SteelSeries 9H</h3> <p><strong>A durable headset with excellent fundamentals</strong></p> <p>The Steelseries 9H is, first and foremost, a well-built set of cans. The headband is built of steel, clad in an extra-rugged plastic. The earcups feature the same durable plastic as well as thick leather pads that are much suppler and less cheap-feeling than the leather found on even the most high-end models. Despite its solid workmanship, the headset is quite light for its size, and comfortable even after long sessions.</p> <p>Sound quality is similarly respectable, with bass that can be pumped up to head-shaking levels without drowning out the respectably crisp mids and highs. By default, it seems tuned for gaming, but with the software equalizer you can get solid music and movie performance out of it, as well.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15366_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15366_small.jpg" alt="When retracted, the microphone on the 9H is flush with the earcup’s surface." title="SteelSeries 9H" width="620" height="873" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>When retracted, the microphone on the 9H is flush with the earcup’s surface.</strong></p> <p>The 9H is flexible, usable either as an analog headset, or with an included USB dongle that offers the standard suite of audio processing, including the ubiquitous Dolby Headphone virtual 7.1. It comes with adapters for separate audio and mic connections or a single three-pole jack for use with phones and tablets. The braided cable includes a compact in-line remote with volume control and mic switch, as well as an optional extension that brings the total cable length to over 9 feet. When you’re not using the flexible noise-cancelling mic, it retracts fully into one of the earcups.</p> <p><strong>Steelseries 9H</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_9.jpg" alt="score:9" title="score:9" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$160, <a href="http://www.steelseries.com/ " target="_blank">www.steelseries.com</a></strong></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At $160, the 9H is very expensive for a wired stereo headset, but you get your money’s worth in comfort and audio quality. Some PC-exclusive gamers might find the similar-but-wireless Corsair Vengeance 2100 a better deal at around the same price, but for those specifically looking for a wired or analog version, the 9H is an excellent choice.</p> <h3>Corsair Vengeance 2100</h3> <p><strong>This wireless headset gives you your money’s worth</strong></p> <p>Since its first entry into the headset market about four years ago, we’ve been reliably impressed with Corsair’s gaming headphones. Corsair has consistently focused on build, comfort and audio quality, without tacking on needless features that send the price sky-high. The Vengeance 2100—the company’s new top-of-the-line set, is no exception.</p> <p>Like previous Vengeance headsets, the 2100 errs on the side of “too big.” It’s heavy because of the built-in battery, but it's not uncomfortable. We’d prefer a lighter headset, but Corsair’s designed the Vengeance 2100 to handle its bulk the right way—by spreading out the weight evenly with a broad, padded headband, and huge, cushy earcups.</p> <p>The Vengeance 2100 is a wireless “7.1 surround” headset. A lot of high-end headsets are calling themselves “7.1” these days, but that just means that they’re stereo with built-in audio hardware for simulated 7.1 surround sound. As with most such headphones, the 7.1 surround in the Vengeance 2100 is an improvement over unprocessed sound, but it doesn’t <br />offer quite the same positionality as “true 5.1” surround like that found in the Roccat Kave XTD.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15365_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15365_small.jpg" alt="The Vengeance 2100’s extra-wide headband helps distribute its substantial weight." title="Corsair Vengeance 2100" width="620" height="930" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Vengeance 2100’s extra-wide headband helps distribute its substantial weight</strong></p> <p>The actual sound quality of the Vengeance 2100 is top-notch. The punchy base and defined mids are great for picking out noises on the virtual battlefield and in movies. Unlike many of the other gaming-tuned headsets, the Vengeance 2100 sounds great playing music, as well. The bass response is still excellent, without the indistinct highs that can make music sound muddy. A true audiophile probably won’t be in the market for a gaming headset in the first place, but it would be difficult to find headphones that sound better than this in the price range.</p> <p>Of course, one of the main selling points of the Vengeance 2100 is that it’s wireless. We found that the wireless worked perfectly, with no degradation of sound quality, good reception area, and an easy charging process. At $130, the Vengeance 2100 isn’t cheap, but it’s less expensive than most other high-quality wireless alternatives. With excellent sound quality, good comfort, and no major flaws, the Vengeance 2100 is a great deal and one we’d easily recommend.</p> <p><strong>Corsair Vengeance 2100</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_9ka.jpg" alt="score:9ka" title="score:9ka" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$170, <a href="http:// www.corsair.comm/ " target="_blank">www.corsair.comm</a></strong></p> <h3>Audiophile headphones for gaming?</h3> <p>Obviously, gaming headsets aren’t the only game in town when it comes to head-mounted audio. There are plenty of cheapo earbuds and on-ear headphones available for those who don’t care much about sound quality, but there’s also a whole world of audiophile hardware out there—high-quality headphones designed for maximum-fidelity audio. Most audiophile-grade equipment is seriously expensive, but some of the “entry-level” models fall in the $100–200 range, along with most of the headsets in this roundup. With sets like the Sennheiser HD558 highly regarded and available for $130, are there reasons to buy a gaming headset at all? Here are the pros and cons of using an audiophile version for gaming.</p> <p>Pros An audiophile headset will almost always give you better fidelity for playing music, so if that’s a major priority for you, you’d do well to consider going that route. Also, it’s been our experience that build quality tends to be a little better. Finally, audiophile headphones are a lot more understated, design-wise. Whether that’s a plus or a minus depends on your particular tastes, but we think there’s something to be said for subtlety.</p> <p>Cons To be able to use voice, you’ll have to buy a clip-on microphone. You can get one for next to nothing, but we’d recommend springing for one of the $20–30 models if you want good recording capabilities. Audiophile headsets don’t prioritize big booming bass the way gaming varieties do, so if you like brain-rattling explosions in your games, or even if you’re a fan of bass-heavy music genres like hip-hop or EDM, you might not see much of an audio quality boost from cheaper audiophile cans. Lastly, many gaming headsets offer built-in audio processing, which can be a great value if you don’t have a dedicated sound card in your rig.</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/sound_supremacy_six_gaming_headsets_reviewed2015#comments CM Storm Pulse-R Hardware June issues 2014 Plantronics RIG Roccat Kave XTD SteelSeries 9H Tritton Kunai Features Thu, 15 Jan 2015 22:11:35 +0000 Alex Castle 28567 at http://www.maximumpc.com How to Use Adobe Photoshop http://www.maximumpc.com/crash_course_learn_basics_adobe_photoshop_2015 <!--paging_filter--><p><span style="font-weight: bold;">Not sure where to start in Photoshop? Here's a crash course on the basics</span></p> <p>Photoshop is a powerful application that can be used for a variety of purposes, from editing photos or other images to graphic design and 3D art to light videography work. But Photoshop's power and versatility can also make it incredibly intimidating. The program’s main window is strewn with 20 different tools plus a ton of filter effects and image layers to top it all off. While Photoshop may be as understandable as Sanskrit to a novice, we’re going to show you how to get started with the basics.</p> <p><strong>Getting Started</strong></p> <p><strong><img src="/files/u170397/interface.jpg" width="620" height="341" /><br /></strong></p> <p>There’s a lot going on when you first launch Photoshop, but it’s not as incomprehensible as you think. On the left side, you’ll find the program's tools. You'll use these to manipulate your work, such as resizing and flipping images, cloning pixels, and drawing shapes. The right side, meanwhile, holds a quick menu to access the image adjustments; directly below that is your layer palette.</p> <h3><strong>Working in layers</strong></h3> <p><img src="/files/u170397/layers.jpg" width="135" height="351" style="float: left; margin: 10px;" />One of the things that makes Photoshop such a powerful image editor is the ability to stack layers on top of each other. For example, you might want to insert a new graphic into one layer, while another darkens a small portion of the image, and yet another adds more color saturation. Additonally, you can set each layer’s opacity and blend them altogether with effects. But more importantly, working in layers means you can isolate any changes you make to pixels in a that particular layer without affecting the whole image. So, every image you edit could easily have 10 or more layers. Professional editors will often create an image with 25 or more layers.</p> <p>The layers palette is located on the bottom-right of your screen; hit Control + J to create a new one. Think of your layers as a stack of paper. Make sure to organize each one accordingly, to avoid hidden elements. There are also plenty of ways to blend layers together, but we’ll come back to that later.</p> <h3><strong>All the filters</strong></h3> <p><strong><img src="/files/u170397/filters.jpg" width="620" height="349" /><br /></strong></p> <p>Filters are the second, if not the most, instrumental part of Photoshop. Unlike those color-shading Instagram filters, these will let you do some truly cool things with your images such as distorting the whole frame, adding various blur effects, and turning the image into a pixelated jumble—on purpose!</p> <p>There’s a lot to dig into here, so take yoru time and play around for awhile in the filters menu.</p> <p>On the next page, we're going over pratically every tool in Photoshop</p> <hr /> <h3><strong>Tools the Trade </strong></h3> <p><img src="/files/u170397/tools.jpg" width="100" height="546" style="margin: 10px; float: right;" />See that long tray on the left? (Pictured here to the right) That’s your tool set. It might look overwhelming, but it’s actually well organized into different sections. The top section has tools to select and move around parts of the images. One step down is holds brushes to add or remove elements of the image. Below that are tools to add text, shapes, and lines. Bringing up the bottom are navigation instruments and color swatches.</p> <p>We’re not going over every little tool but here are most them. Each is important in its own right.</p> <h3><strong>Transformative tools</strong></h3> <ul> <li><strong>Move Tool (V):</strong> This essentially allows you to move around objects with a simple click-and-drag. To move something, it has to be in an unlocked layer that’s also not the background layer.</li> <li><strong>Transform (T):</strong> Though this isn’t featured as part of Photoshop’s main menu, it’s an indispensable tool that lets you change the size of your image and rotate it.</li> </ul> <h3><strong>Selection Tools</strong></h3> <p>Selection tools are the key to creating a great image. But before we start delineating the various tools, there are a couple of keyboard commands you should know.</p> <ul> <li><strong>Shift + Left Click:</strong> Add to your current selection.</li> <li><strong>Alt + Left Click:</strong> Conversely, this shortcut will subtract from your current selection. </li> <li><strong>Control + D:</strong> one of the most important key combinations you should use to deselect Control + Shift + D: refocus on your last selection.</li> <li><strong>Shift + Control + I:</strong> Inverse selection. A neat trick is to isolate an object from its flat background by selecting every pixel around it and then hitting Control + I, so you have a perfect outline around your subject.</li> <li><strong>Control + D:</strong> Deselect everything.</li> </ul> <p>Now, with further ado, all of the selection tools.</p> <p><img src="/files/u170397/selection.jpg" width="350" height="421" style="float: left; margin: 10px 20px;" /></p> <ul> <li><strong>Marquee tool (M):</strong> This tool lets you highlight rectangular and circular parts of your canvas. Hitting the shift key while you’re moving the cursor will also cause this selection tool to morph into a perfectly square or round shape.</li> <li><strong>Lasso (L):</strong> The Lasso tool is a free-form selection tool that lets you draw lines over the image. When using the regular lasso option, you can create curved lines as long as you’re holding down the mouse button. Once you let go, it completes the shape with a straight line that connects with your starting point. Alternatively, there’s also the Polygonal Tasso Tool, which sketches out only straight lines. Lastly, the Magnetic Lasso will automatically latch on to edges.</li> <li><strong>Magic Wand (W):</strong> One of the easiest selection tools to use because it will select the area you click on as well as any similar pixels around that spot. It can be further fine-tuned by decreasing the tolerance, or if you want to select more of the area, increasing the tolerance.</li> <li><strong>Crop Tool (C):</strong> As the name suggests, this will crop your images. You can either click and drag the exact framing you want or click on the image to create a box over it, which you further adjust by shrinking the sides. Holding down shift while using either method will also preserve the image’s original aspect ratio.</li> <li><strong>Eye Dropper (I):</strong> Want to re-create the same color from part of the image? You can! Move the tip of this tool to the exact pixel you want to copy.</li> </ul> <h3><strong>Fixer-uppers </strong></h3> <p><strong><img src="/files/u170397/brush.jpg" width="620" height="338" /><br /></strong></p> <p>The next set of tools is a more focused on editing pixels and adding spot-on images. Like the Selection tools, there are a few nuances to these tools that it really helps to know. For example, a brush can have a soft head, which means its effect will gradually fade away on the edges rather than coming to a hard stop. Also, keep in mind you can change the overall size of your brush as well as its shape.</p> <ul> <li><strong>Healing Brush (J):</strong> This brush lets you fix small imperfections in your images such as acne or wrinkles, spots of dust, and other small fixes.<img src="/files/u170397/clone_tool.jpg" width="620" height="414" /></li> <li><strong>Clone Stamp Tool (S):</strong> Similar to the healing brush, this tool effectively clones an area. This could be useful for removing a cloud in an otherwise clear blue sky. To use the tool, you'll first have to press the Alt key and click on the area of pixels you want to replicate. After that you can just dab the clone tool on the part of the image you want to fix.</li> <li><strong>History Brush (Y):</strong> Made a mistake? No sweat, this brush lets you paint back in time. For example, if you made the entire picture darker, you could use this brush to selectively peel back your last edit in certain spots. </li> <li><strong>Blur/Sharpen/Smudge:</strong> This is one of Photoshop’s three-part editing tools. Blur rubs out details, making them fuzzier, and soften textures. Conversely, the sharpening tool accentuates the details, making them crisper. Smudge is a interesting tool because it melds pixels together, which makes it almost completey useless for real-life photos. However, the smudge tool might be more applicable for blending colors in art, or perhaps creating wisps of smoke.</li> <li><strong>Gradient Tool (G):</strong> Use the Gradient Tool to create (you guessed it) gradients of color. Once the tool is selected, click and drag the resulting line in the direction you want the color shift to go in. But if you want to mix in more than one color, use the drop-down menu bar toward the top of the screen. This lets you set up complex gradients that span multiple colors; you can also set the gradient pattern.<img src="http://www.maximumpc.com/files/u170397/dodge_and_burn.jpg" width="620" height="414" /></li> <li><strong>Burn/Dodge/Sponge Tools (O):</strong> Another trifecta of editing tools. Burn and dodge will affect the lighting in your image, adding more shadows or more light, respectively. The sponge tool, on the other hand, can be used to change the saturation in your image, making colors richer or grayer.</li> <li><strong>Eraser:</strong> Last but not least, the eraser lets you clean up any nasty edges or mistakes in your images. If you’re working with layers, a sure-fire tip is to use this tool with a soft brush to smooth out the edges between each element of the image.</li> </ul> <h3><strong>Image elements</strong></h3> <ul> <li><strong>Pen Tool (P):</strong> Usually more useful for artists sketching up vector graphics and other art, the pen allows the users to draw freeform and straight lines.</li> <li><strong>Text Tool (T):</strong> Who says Photoshop is only about images? Add some words to the picture.</li> <li><strong>Shapes tool (U):</strong> Add in an assortment of shapes, including rectangles with rounded or sharp sides, circles of all proportions, polygons, lines again, and other custom shapes.</li> </ul> <h3><strong>Navigation tools</strong></h3> <ul> <li><strong>Hand Tool (H):</strong> Giving you a hand getting around the frame, just click and drag to explore the canvas if you’re viewing the image at a high magnification.</li> <li><strong>Zoom Tool (Z):</strong> Speaking of magnification, this is an indispensable part of working in Photoshop. A regular click will zoom into the image, whereas holding Alt while hitting the mouse button will zoom out. With either option you can also hold down the mouse button for a smoother pull and push zoom.</li> </ul> <h3><strong>Shades of the rainbow</strong></h3> <p><strong><img src="/files/u170397/color_menu.jpg" width="620" height="475" /><br /></strong></p> <p>Picking colors adds a whole other subset of options. Once you hit your color swatches on the lower-left of a screen, a new popup window will show an entire color gamut for you to choose from. In the image above, you see a large box that displays red in a wide array of intensities, from washed-out white in the upper-left, plain old black in the bottom-left, and the brightest version in the upper-right.</p> <p>Next to this, there’s also a bar showing all the different hues to chose from. Of course, you can also manually dial in exactly what color you want to work with.</p> <h3><strong>History</strong></h3> <p>The History palette is a magical time machine located in the upper-right of the Photoshop interface. Photoshop records every little move you make; navigating to this small menu allows you to you jump back in time and revert to any changes you made in the past.</p> <p>Read on to see a few things you can do with Photoshop.</p> <hr /> <p>Now that we’ve gotten though the tools, we’re going to put everything we’ve learned to good use and start photoshopping some images.</p> <h3>A basic Photoshop</h3> <p><img src="/files/u170397/photoshopped.jpg" width="620" height="411" /></p> <p>One of the most basic things you can do with Photoshop is joining together two images. Let's start with creating a selection around the object we want to shop into our main image.</p> <ol> <li>Instead of using any old Marquee Tool, we’re going to use the Pen Tool (P), which we'll use to draw a path around the object.<img src="http://www.maximumpc.com/files/u170397/pen_select.jpg" width="620" height="470" /></li> <li>After the shape is complete, press the A key to bring up the Direct Selection Tool. Click on the image and select Make Selection in the contextual menu. </li> <li>This will create the selection; now, hit the copy shortcut (Control + C).</li> <li>Next up, lets bring up our main image, then paste (Control + V) the object into it.<img src="/files/u170397/photoshop.jpg" width="620" height="341" /></li> <li>Because it’s been added in as a new layer, we can easily move it around.</li> <li>Lastly, we’re going to clean up any harsh edges using a soft-brushed eraser.</li> </ol> <h3>Create a toy box image</h3> <p><img src="/files/u170397/final_tilt_shift.jpg" width="620" height="414" /></p> <p>One of the other cool things you can do simply in Photoshop is simulate the toy box effect typically created with a very expensive tilt-shift lens. This little trick lets you turn an image of the real world into a miniature toy set. Images shot from a tall building or some other elevation down onto a subject area work best. Once you've got your image, here's how to do it in a few simple steps.</p> <ol> <li>After you’ve opened your image, go to Filter &gt; Blur Gallery &gt; Tilt-Shift</li> <li>This brings up a new overlay of three bars, as well as a round center point on your image. </li> <li>This center point should be position over the subject you want to keep in focus. You can also tweak the miniature distortion and blur levels with the settings on the side. To orient the effect, you can rotate the bars or adjust the spacing between them. Once you’ve picked a pleasing effect, go ahead and click OK.</li> </ol> <p><img src="http://www.maximumpc.com/files/u170397/tiltshift_middle.jpg" width="620" height="341" /></p> <p>These next few steps are for an extra bit of gloss, but they’ll make your images pop.</p> <ol> <li>For a bit of vignetting fakery, you could add a new fill layer (found under the Layer menu). Make sure to pick a solid color, preferably black.</li> <li>This will in turn cover your image with a completely opaque layer of black paint, but don’t fret. Simply hover over to the layer’s opacity and bring it down.</li> <li>Next, use the eraser tool with a large soft brush and erase any spots you want to be bright in the final image. <p><img src="http://www.maximumpc.com/files/u170397/saturation.jpg" width="620" height="341" /></p> </li> <li>Lastly, go to the adjustments menu and shake up some of the brightness and saturation to really make the image pop.</li> <li>Voilà! You have a great-looking (but fake) miniature photo</li> </ol> <h3>But wait there's more</h3> <p>We’ve barely scratched the surface of all the power behind Photoshop. There's much more that you can do with the program, such as generating vector art and adding selective color to your photos, for a few examples. But this was only a crash course to give you a starting point for all you great projects. Now, get photoshopping!</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/crash_course_learn_basics_adobe_photoshop_2015#comments Adobe crash course how to use image editing Media Applications photoshop post processing Software Software Features Wed, 14 Jan 2015 22:49:29 +0000 Kevin Lee 28811 at http://www.maximumpc.com NAS Storage Review Roundup: Let's Get NASty http://www.maximumpc.com/nas_storage_2015 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Multi-bay NAS storage shootout</h3> <p>There’s nothing quite like having a system fail and then realizing you hadn't backed up your data. In the back of your mind, you always knew this day might come, but procrastination and poor planning has caught you with your pants down, and you have no one to blame but yourself. “Never again!” you shout, but as your anger eventually subsides, so does your impetus to do something about it.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/opener_nas3509.png" width="620" height="413" /></p> <p>You don’t have to be that guy. A little wherewithal, a minor amount of planning, and a network-attached storage (NAS) storage appliance will give you peace of mind—and keep your data safe. Owning a NAS box is an excellent way to keep your files organized, backed up, and readily available not just from your own PC, but over your entire network. That includes connected devices such as your smartphone, tablet, game console, and who knows, maybe even your toaster by the time you read this.</p> <p>We’ve rounded up a collection of five multi-bay NAS boxes, one each from Western Digital, QNAP, Buffalo, Netgear, and LaCie. Each one will happily back up your data to multiple hard drives configured in various levels of RAID, but they’re also capable of much more. We’ll evaluate how easy (or difficult) each one is to set up and use, how they perform, and what kinds of special or unique functionalities they bring to the table, beyond simple storage chores. Put the kids to bed, folks, things are about to get NASty!</p> <h3>Getting to Know NAS</h3> <p><strong>A primer on NAS and how it can benefit you</strong></p> <p>Let’s be honest: The topic of backing up storage isn’t particularly sexy or glamorous, though it is essential. At some point or another, your current storage device will fail; when it does, will you be prepared? Without a backup in place, you can kiss those vacation photos and home videos of junior taking his first steps goodbye. Once you’ve gotten over the emotional trauma and guilt of having lost all those digitally preserved memories, you can begin thinking of a way to tell your boss that the report you were working on for that multi-million-dollar client is going to be late—very late. There goes that promotion!<strong><br /></strong></p> <p>One way to avoid these situations is to back up your data to a NAS appliance. In its most basic form, a NAS is any storage device attached to your network that you can access from other PCs and connected devices, hence the reason it’s called “network-attached storage.” It’s your own personal server—your own cloud, if you will—that’s responsible for storing and sharing files. A NAS box is especially handy if you have multiple connected devices in your home, including mobile gadgets like smartphones and tablets.</p> <p>Not everyone will benefit the in same way from a NAS box. For example, if you only have one or two PCs in your home and don’t care about backing up data from or streaming to other devices, a hard drive or even a USB flash drive connected to your router’s USB port might be all you need. However, you’ll miss out on the other benefits NAS boxes offer, one of the most important of which is redundancy. A basic feature of any multi-bay NAS box is RAID (Redundant Array of Independent/Inexpensive Disks) support. Depending on the level of RAID you select, if one of the drives in a multi-bay NAS appliance fails, your data remains safe. You’ll want to replace the faulty drive as soon as possible, but unlike relying on a single drive—whether it’s connected to a router or as a storage partition on your system’s internal hard drive or solid-state drive—your backed-up files don’t enter the digital afterlife if a drive gives up the ghost.</p> <p>There are distinct advantages to using an in-home NAS box versus trusting your data to a third-party cloud provider, too. For one, you don’t have to worry about subscription fees. Even though some cloud-storage options are free, they’re typically capped and limited in functionality. On top of that, you can’t always be sure a free service will remain that way—SugarSync, for example, recently transitioned to a paid-only service. NAS boxes come with an up-front cost, but you own the hardware.</p> <p>We’d also be remiss to ignore the elephant in the room. The more we learn about our government’s spying tactics, the less likely it seems we can totally avoid the watchful eye of Big Brother, though that doesn’t mean we have to make it overly easy for Uncle Sam to sneak a peek at our files. Anything sent over the Internet is susceptible to spying, not to mention how much cooperation—forced or otherwise—a third-party cloud provider is offering up. It’s not just the government, either—hackers can make off with your data and your credit card details by breaking into a cloud provider’s database. To top it off, access to your backed-up data in the cloud is reliant on both your ISP and your cloud provider; if there’s an outage on either end, you won’t have access to that data.</p> <p>In short, there are a number of benefits to owning a multi-bay NAS box, but how do you choose one? The answer to that question really depends on how much functionality you want for your dollar. Performance also comes into play. In our experience, machines with bigger, faster processors perform better and are more responsive. There’s a lot of overhead to deal with, plus the fact that today’s NAS boxes are smarter and more capable than ever.</p> <p>One final word about NAS setup: For irreplaceable files and other important data, you should still maintain a separate, off-site backup in case of a fire, flood, or other disaster.</p> <h3>R.I.P. Windows Home Server</h3> <p>We were disappointed when Microsoft decided to discontinue its Windows Home Server OS—it worked wonderfully with other Windows products—though, truth be told, Redmond had already stuck a fork in the software by removing its nifty drive-extender technology from WHS 2011, the last version ever available. The drive-extender function was groovy because it allowed users to add, upgrade, and replace HDDs without losing their data. For example, if a user was running out of storage space on a setup containing four 1TB hard drives, he could swap out one of the drives and replace it with a 3TB HDD without skipping a beat.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/lenovo_405_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/lenovo_405_small.jpg" alt="All of the major OEMs have abandoned the now-dead Windows Home Server 2011 OS." width="500" height="538" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>All of the major OEMs have abandoned the now-dead Windows Home Server 2011 OS.</strong></p> <p>As much as we liked WHS, it never quite caught on with most mainstream users. Microsoft had the almost impossible task of trying to explain why a user should spend several hundred dollars rolling his own mini home server, when the average buyer was already reluctant to spend more than a few Benjamins on a new PC. The value proposition became even harder to explain as new PC prices started to nose dive in recent years—you can run out to Best Buy and snag a touchscreen laptop with Windows 8 for less than $400.</p> <h3>Buffalo LinkStation 420</h3> <p>Out of the five NAS boxes represented in this roundup, Buffalo’s LinkStation 420 is the least expensive. It costs around $300 (street) for a unit prepopulated with 4TB of storage, which is how it was sent to us. Other storage capacities include 2TB, 6TB, and 8TB, or you can opt for a diskless version (421e) for around $120 if you already own hard drives.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/buffalo_linkstation_420_small_3.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/buffalo_linkstation_420_small_2.jpg" width="620" height="578" /></a></p> <p>This is a two-drive box with support for RAID 0 and RAID 1. If you opt for a version with storage, hard drives will occupy both bays—the 8TB model sports a pair of 4TB drives, while the 2TB model uses two 1TB drives. Since it’s only a two-bay NAS box with no JBOD support, you’ll want to decide carefully on your current and future storage needs.</p> <p>Buffalo attempts to win over consumers by claiming transfer speeds of up to 100MB/s, and in some instances, you’ll hit and even surpass the century mark. The LinkStation 420 especially excels at small file transfers, though performance depends on how you have it configured. Out of the box, Buffalo defaults to RAID 0. This type of RAID doesn’t offer any redundancy and instead splits data across multiple disks for faster throughput. The major downside to this approach is that if one of the drives fails, you lose all your data. In a RAID 1 array, your data is duplicated across both drives and is still retrievable if one of the drives bites the dust.</p> <p>Surprisingly, switching to a RAID 1 configuration didn’t have a big impact on performance (though the task of switching RAID modes takes several hours to complete). Transferring 1GB of music files from our test bed to the LinkStation took 25 seconds when configured in RAID 0, and 27 seconds in RAID 1. That’s how it played out across the board: only minor performance hits, both in real-world and synthetic benchmarking.</p> <p>While the RAID configuration didn’t have much of an impact on performance, turning on DLNA did. With DLNA streaming enabled, it took over half a minute longer to copy a 3GB collection of VOB files to the LinkStation versus disabling the streaming service. We suspect that the combination of a 1.2GHz single-core ARM processor and 512MB of RAM is like asking the LinkStation to chew bubble gum and walk at full speed at the same time, so it gets tripped up trying to do both.</p> <p>Navigating the web interface is pretty straightforward, in part because the LinkStation lacks some of the advanced features found on higher-end (and higher-priced) NAS appliances. Whereas QNAP takes a kitchen sink approach with the TurboNAS TS-470, Buffalo sits way on the other side of the spectrum with a NAS box that offers users little more than the basics. There’s no app support either, so what you see is what you get.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/buffalo_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/buffalo_small.jpg" alt="Buffalo’s interface is sparse because there’s not a ton of options to play around with." title="Buffalo LinkStation 420" width="620" height="445" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Buffalo’s interface is sparse because there’s not a ton of options to play around with.</strong></p> <p>Buffalo at least covers the bare essentials. The LinkStation supports BitTorrent, you can stream media via DLNA or iTunes, and you can configure FTP settings. For backup chores, it supports Time Machine for Macs and comes with NovaBackup Professional software for Windows. It also supports printer sharing and external storage expansion, but only one or the other at a time via the single USB 2.0 port on the back.</p> <p>As a basic backup solution, the LinkStation is an attractive bargain. The big upside is you’re not being forced to pay a premium for additional features you may never use or care about, though if you want more from a NAS appliance than simple backups, you’ll need to pony up for a higher-priced alternative with more bells and whistles.</p> <p><strong>Buffalo LinkStation 420 w/4TB</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_7.jpg" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$300 (street),<a href="http://www.buffalotech.com/ " target="_blank">www.lacie.com</a></strong></p> <h3>WD My Cloud EX4</h3> <p><strong>A business-savvy box that’s consumer-friendly, too</strong></p> <p><strong><img src="/files/u99720/wd_nas-3493.jpg" width="620" height="413" /><br /></strong></p> <p>Western Digital infused the My Cloud EX4 with features that will appeal to both home consumers and small-business owners alike. This means home consumers won’t have to buy a brand-new NAS if their needs grow down the line, while business users have a relatively affordable option that’s easy to use. For example, most home consumers won’t give two spits about the dual LAN ports, but with link aggregation and failover support, a business user can tap into the two ports for additional performance or as protection against a downed connection or cable. If a connection fails for any reason, the EX4 switches to the other connection without skipping a beat. The same goes for the redundant DC power connections on the back of the box, though WD only provides a single external power supply—you’ll have to buy a second one if you’re concerned about it going bad, or as a precaution against little Billy tripping over the power cord.</p> <p>The EX4’s cloud-based GUI is the sleekest of the bunch and extremely user-friendly. That’s to say you don’t need to be a total networking nerd to navigate the interface and configure tasks like automatic backups, though if you want to dive a little deeper into your LAN, you’ll find a spattering of fine-grain tools to play around with. Many options are accompanied by an information box with brief explanations of their functions. These range from mildly helpful to insultingly obvious—in the Network UPS section, the help box offers clarification on Master and Slave models (that’s helpful), whereas the help box next to the On/Off switch for the WebDAV Service simply states “Enable or disable the WebDAV service” without explaining what it is or does (gee, thanks!).</p> <p>The EX4 is a four-bay box with support for RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10, along with spanning and JBOD. Our unit came with 8TB of storage spread across four 2TB WD Red NAS drives spinning at 5400 RPM; it’s also offered in 12TB and 16TB capacities, or sans HDDs if you want to bring your own to the NAS party. A nice convenience of the EX4 is that drives pop right in—no screwdriver needed. Perhaps too convenient, however, are the lack of drive locks. If little Billy isn’t tripping over the power cord, he could still wreak havoc by yanking out a drive and hiding it somewhere in the house.</p> <p>We tested the EX4 in RAID 5, RAID 1, and RAID 0 modes, though changing it up didn’t seem to impact performance all that much. In our file transfer tests, the EX4 generally lagged behind the competition whether we were dealing with smaller sized files or larger VOB files. This was especially disappointing in RAID 0—given the nominal gains in performance, it’s just not worth the added risk of data loss versus running RAID 1 or RAID 5.</p> <p>Enabling DLNA also proved a burden for the EX4, which is something we witnessed to some extent on every NAS box tested here. The good news for WD is that the impact was fairly minor on our real-world tests, though the EX4 was one of the slower-performing boxes to begin with.</p> <p>So, where does leave us? First and foremost, it leaves us wishing the EX4 had a little more pep in its step, which would make it a clear favorite. However, what it lacks in sheer speed it makes up for in features and ease-of-use. If you can live with slower transfers, the EX4 is a fantastic buy for both home and business users.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/wd.png" width="620" height="445" /></p> <p><strong>WD My Cloud EX4 w/8TB</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_8.jpg" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$750 <a href="http://www.wd.com/ " target="_blank">www.wd.com</a></strong></p> <p><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>Netgear ReadyNAS RN102</h3> <p><strong>Fast and compact</strong></p> <p><strong><img src="/files/u99720/netgear_nas-3485.jpg" width="620" height="413" /><br /></strong></p> <p>If there’s one company we thought might have a leg up in this competition, it’s Netgear, which has spoiled us with its high-performance wireless routers like the WNDR4500 and R7000 (otherwise known as the Nighthawk). The difference here is those are both top-shelf models, whereas the RN102 is part of the entry-level 100 series in the ReadyNAS product line released last year.</p> <p>Some of Netgear’s NAS boxes are a bit complicated for the average user, so with the ReadyNAS line, the company went back to the drawing board and rebuilt its Linux-based platform from the ground up. The result is ReadyNAS OS 6, a clean and open platform that looks slightly unfinished.</p> <p>Powering the RN102 is a 1.6GHz single-core ARM-based Marvell Armada 370 processor and 512MB of RAM, the exact same combination Buffalo chose for its LinkStation 420. Both are compact boxes with two drive bays, though Netgear’s carries a slightly larger footprint (3.97x5.59x8.66 inches versus 3.43x5.02x8.07 inches). Nevertheless, the RN102 can be tucked discretely away under the bed or in the corner of a closet. It also offers more connectivity options than the LinkStation—two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 port, eSATA, and a Kensington lock, compared to just a lonely USB 2.0 port.</p> <p>With a street price of around $340, the RN102 is wedged between Buffalo’s LinkStation and LaCie’s 2big NAS boxes, which sell on the street for around $250 and $400, respectively. Why not go for the cheapest of the bunch and call it a day? In addition to having more connectivity options than the LinkStation, Netgear’s NAS box is made with metal instead of plastic. We didn’t have the same nervousness yanking drives out of the toolless caddies in the RN102, whereas the LinkStation’s plastic pull-tabs feel chintzy in comparison.</p> <p>The RN102 supports up to 8TB. Our system came stuffed with a pair of Toshiba 1TB hard drives (7,200rpm, 32MB cache). By default, the RN102 configures itself in RAID 1 with Netgear’s proprietary X-RAID technology, a single-volume architecture that allows you to add storage space without reformatting your drives. Toggling out of X-RAID gives you the option of choosing other configurations—RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, and 10, as well as JBOD. That’s a pretty robust range for an entry-level box.</p> <p>We tested both RAID 0 and RAID 1 configurations. Performance was a mixed bag between the two, though generally fast at every turn. The RN102 approached or surpassed the 100MB/s mark in several tests and posted the highest read score in CrystalDiskMark. It also transferred large VOB files faster than both other two-bay NAS boxes. Unsurprisingly, enabling DLNA slowed things down a bit.</p> <p>The RN102 is capable of more than simple file transfers—it also supports a small but growing number of apps. This isn’t so much a selling point as it is a bonus, at least until developers step to the plate with more app options. As it stands, there are just a handful, one of the more interesting ones being a surveillance app (ReadySurvelliance) that turns the RN102 into a Network Video Recorder (NVR). Using the app and an IP camera, of which there are over 1,000 supported models, you can keep tabs on your business or home remotely from your iPhone or Android smartphone.</p> <p>Though Netgear markets the RN102 as an entry-level NAS appliance, it comes with a surprising amount of features and solid performance, to boot. Buffalo still has Netgear beat on price, but the RN102’s superior construction, flexibility, and performance makes it easier to recommend.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/netgear.png" width="620" height="445" /></p> <p><strong>Netgear ReadyNAS RN102 w/2TB</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_8.jpg" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$340 (street), <a href="http://www.netgear.com/ " target="_blank">www.netgear.com</a></strong></p> <h3>LaCie 2big NAS</h3> <p><strong>Small, stylish, and sturdy storage</strong></p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/lacie_nas-3479.jpg" width="620" height="436" /></p> <p>It’s a bit ironic that LaCie continues to attach the “2big” moniker to this line of NAS appliances, a naming scheme that belies its compact design. But that doesn’t mean it will go unnoticed by visitors if you leave it out in the open. On the contrary, LaCie’s 2big NAS wins style points for its refreshingly unique design. Whereas most NAS boxes are pretty plain, the 2big NAS looks like a giant heatsink ripped out of an alien spaceship, with a glowing blue orb near the top that gives the box a bit of sci-fi flair. It’s also functional as a physical button and an indicator of drive health. Solid blue is what you want to see—it means everything is normal. A blinking blue LED indicates it’s busy with an activity, while blue and red blinking means it’s building a RAID array or updating its software. What you don’t want to see is a blinking red LED, which is a warning sign that something’s wrong (high temps or a degraded RAID array), and you really hope to avoid a solid red LED, which indicates a critical error. You can disable the LED through software if you don’t care for the persistent mood lighting, especially if you plan to plop the 2big in your bedroom, but events triggering a red alert will still turn on the LED.</p> <p>LaCie is the only company in this roundup to include several different power adapters. Most civilians won’t care, but if you rack up frequent flier miles like a kid collecting candy on Halloween, you can take the 2big almost anywhere in the world and still have an appropriate power cord to fire it up.</p> <p>The 2big is yet another NAS box with a single-core ARM processor inside, though it’s clocked at 2GHz like WD’s entry. However, LaCie skimped on RAM, with just 256MB on board, the least amount of any NAS box reviewed here. Connectivity options are also a bit on the sparse side—there’s a single USB 2.0 port and an eSATA port, and of course, a Gigabit LAN to plug into your network. To LaCie’s credit, the 2big came with the longest Ethernet cable, giving users a bit more flexibility in terms of placement.</p> <p>LaCie's arrangement of the 2big's web-based dashboard is interesting. There are 11 main categories to browse—General Settings, Users, Shares, Network, and so forth—all of which are accessible from the main window. To the right and underneath are room for three tiles with a bit of expanded info. For example, the General Settings tile displays the date, time, and which network the 2big is connected to, while the Storage tile shows how much space is left. Overall, it’s pretty straightforward and easy to get where you’re going. You can’t dig as deep as you can with some of the other NAS boxes, though, nor does the 2big support third-party apps.</p> <p>When the rubber hit the road, the 2big was never the fastest, though it typically came in second or third in most benchmarks. Read speeds are a bit on the slow side, and with DLNA enabled, it took nearly twice as long to copy VOB files from our client PC to the 2big. Performance improves somewhat by switching from RAID 1 to RAID 0, but so does the risk of losing data.</p> <p>At $400 (both street and MSRP), the 2big is the most expensive of the two-bay boxes in this roundup. We’d be willing to overlook that if it could distance itself from the competition in some way, but with the limited connectivity options and middling performance, it’s a tough sell.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/lacie.png" width="620" height="445" /></p> <p><strong> LaCie 2big NAS w/4TB</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_6.jpg" alt="score:6" title="score:6" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$399, <a href="http://www.lacie.com/ " target="_blank">www.lacie.com</a></strong></p> <h3>QNAP TurboNAS TS-470</h3> <p><strong>Your storage concierge awaits</strong></p> <p><strong><img src="/files/u99720/qnap_nas-3496.jpg" width="620" height="413" /><br /></strong></p> <p>We’ll be the first to admit that it’s not fair to put a $1,000 NAS in the ring with units that cost anywhere from a third to two-thirds the price, but we can only review what’s sent to us, and this is it. So, what does a grand get you in NAS-box world?</p> <p>Turns out it’s just about everything save for the kitchen sink. Oh, and storage. If you’re insulted by the price tag, QNAP adds injury by neglecting to include any hard drives, putting further hurt on your wallet. Hey, at least HDD storage is still fairly cheap these days.</p> <p>To be fair, the TS-470 isn’t just a simple backup device by any means. It’s more of a home-networking and storage concierge that’s ready to do almost anything you ask of it short of cooking you dinner—but give it time and there might be app for that, too. But before we talk about apps, let’s have a look at the hardware.</p> <p>The TS-470 isn’t swinging an ARM chip like the rest of the NAS appliances; it’s rocking a 2.6GHz dual-core Intel x86 CPU and 2GB of RAM. It sports four bays, and can expand to a whopping 36 hard drives and 144TB of raw capacity when paired with a couple of dedicated expansion enclosures. There are two 1-Gigabit LAN ports, courtesy of the included PCIe NIC, though you can swap it out for a 10-Gigabit LAN card. You also get two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports (one on the front), two eSATA ports, an HDMI port, both an audio input and output, a Kensington lock, and a built-in infrared receiver for MCE remote control.</p> <p>On the front is a backlit LCD panel that you control using Enter and Select buttons. You can change certain settings, though not nearly as many as with the web-based UI. Also on the front are power and one-touch copy buttons.</p> <p>QNAP doesn’t use toolless caddies (boo!) though the drive bays do lock in place (yay!). Depending on the number of drives you install, your configuration options include single disk, JBOD, RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 6, RAID 10, and RAID 5 + Hot Spare. The way RAID 5 + Hot Spare works is one disk is reserved as a spare and used to rebuild the RAID 5 array on the fly if a disk goes bad.</p> <p>As you probably surmised from the port selection, the TS-470 has plenty of multimedia mojo. It even supports USB-based TV tuners, though that barely scratches the surface. Dozens of apps exist, including one that emulates Super Mario Bros., in case you’re in a nostalgic mood. But it’s not all about fun and games—Dropbox is available, and there’s an entire category of “Business” apps.</p> <p>Though there’s a dizzying amount of options and functionality to play with, QNAP does an excellent job of presenting it all in a way that doesn’t feel daunting. The browser-based UI looks like a typical smartphone or tablet screen, with colorful icons for easy navigation. The Control Panel is where you’ll find all the knobs and dials, though it’s set up in a way that will never make you feel lost.</p> <p>The TS-470 isn’t just the most flexible NAS box in this roundup, it’s also the fastest. It led the way or tied for first in all but two benchmarks, and made a mockery of the competition in our write tests. Surprisingly, the TS-470’s superior hardware wasn’t enough to offset the performance impact of enabling DLNA, but it did deal with it better than the others.</p> <p>It’s a shame QNAP doesn’t include any storage for the asking price, as that’s all that holds us back from giving the TS-470 a Kick-Ass award.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/qnap.png" width="620" height="445" /></p> <p><strong>QNAP TurboNAS TS-470</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_9.jpg" alt="score:9" title="score:9" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$1000, <a href="http://www.qnap.com/ " target="_blank">www.qnap.com</a></strong></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>Performance</h3> <p><strong>Speed does actually matter</strong></p> <p>To evaluate the performance of each NAS box, we used the drives that each one shipped with, save for QNAP’s empty TS-470, which we populated with four Western Digital 2TB Red NAS drives. The real challenge was figuring out which RAID to use, and in the end, we benchmarked each NAS box using RAID 0 and RAID 1. We also repeated each test with DLNA enabled, to see what kind of performance impact it would have.</p> <p>We used a combination of synthetic and real-world benchmarks to evaluate performance. On the synthetic side, we ran CrystalDiskMark’s sequential read/write tests and 4K read/write tests. We also used an older version of ATTO (the newest release doesn’t recognize network drives) and plucked the highest read and write scores from each run. For our real-world tests, we recorded how long it took to transfer 1GB of music files from our test PC to NAS and from NAS back to the PC, and then repeated the tests using 3GB VOB files.</p> <p>Due to space constraints, the scores you see in the benchmark chart represent RAID 1 performance with DLNA disabled, though we looked at the overall picture and considered all scores when evaluating and issuing a verdict for each one. In doing so, the QNAP TS-470 stood out as the clear winner among the bunch. Not only is its feature-set a country mile long, it consistently outpaced all the other NAS boxes in our benchmarks (both synthetic and real-world), sometimes by a wide margin. Its write performance was particularly impressive—measured with ATTO, the TS-470 posted 113.74MB/s, well ahead of Netgear’s ReadyNAS RN102, which was a distant second with a score of 80.14MB/s. The TS-470 needed to run circles around the competition to justify its pricing premium—it’s $1,000 for the box alone—and it did that throughout the majority of testing.</p> <p>It was far more difficult determining a second-place finisher. Strictly by the numbers, LaCie’s 2big NAS came in second place more times than any other NAS box, but it also posted some disturbingly low scores and took last place in ATTO’s read and write runs. Plus, it’s the most expensive two-bay NAS box represented here and has limited connectivity options, to boot.</p> <p>If all you’re looking for is a cheap way to back up your data, it’s hard to ignore Buffalo’s LinkStation 420. It runs about $250 street for 2TB, or you can double up to 4TB for around $300, which, quite frankly, would be the better buy. Either way, it’s a relatively cheap and serviceable solution for your backup chores, just don’t expect it to impress with a list of tricks it never learned.</p> <p>In our minds, second place is a toss-up between Netgear’s ReadyNAS RN102 and Western Digital’s My Cloud EX4. The EX4 has twice as many drive bays (four), a sleek UI, and a great balance of features that home consumers and business users alike will appreciate. It’s also a little sluggish, posting scores that qualify for fourth or fifth place finishes in seven out of 10 tests. By comparison, Netgear’s ReadyNAS RN102 took first or second place in five of the 10 tests. It’s simply the faster box, and while it doesn’t offer business-class amenities like dual LAN ports and multiple power ports, it makes up for it with a wide selection of software options (including a growing app store) and RAID configurations, a healthy selection of ports, and metal construction, for less than half the price of WD’s My Cloud EX4. If forced at gunpoint to choose between the two, we’d ask the gunman why he’s so passionate about NAS boxes, and then we’d tell him to pick up Netgear’s ReadyNAS RN102.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span><br /> <div class="module-content"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 620px; height: 265px;" border="0"> <thead> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>Buffalo LinkStation 420</td> <td>WD My Cloud EX4</td> <td>QNAP TurboNAS TS-470</td> <td>Netgear ReadyNAS RN102</td> <td>LaCie 2big NAS</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">CrystalDiskMark Sequential Read (MB/s)</td> <td class="item-dark">64.77</td> <td>72.86</td> <td>75.04</td> <td><strong>106.2</strong></td> <td>74.82</td> </tr> <tr> <td>CrystalDiskMark Sequential Write (MB/s)</td> <td>72.98</td> <td>69.68<br /><strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> <td><strong>110.6</strong></td> <td>47.43</td> <td>72.90</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">CrystalDiskMark 4K Read (MB/s)</td> <td class="item-dark">9.69</td> <td>6.76</td> <td><strong>10.73</strong></td> <td>6.71</td> <td>10.18</td> </tr> <tr> <td>CrystalDiskMark 4K Write (MB/s)</td> <td>9.02</td> <td>9.82</td> <td><strong>10.21<br /></strong></td> <td>5.43</td> <td>9.89</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ATTO Read (MB/s)</td> <td>113.98</td> <td>115.95<strong><br /></strong></td> <td><strong>117.47</strong></td> <td>102.52</td> <td>84.14</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ATTO Write (MB/s)</td> <td>75.72</td> <td>73.74</td> <td><strong>113.74</strong></td> <td>80.14</td> <td>59.52</td> </tr> <tr> <td>1GB Music files PC to NAS (sec)</td> <td>27</td> <td>29</td> <td><strong>15</strong></td> <td>28</td> <td>24</td> </tr> <tr> <td>1GB Music files NAS to PC (sec)</td> <td>19</td> <td>23</td> <td>26</td> <td><strong>17</strong></td> <td>22</td> </tr> <tr> <td>3GB VOB files PC to NAS (sec)</td> <td>59</td> <td>69</td> <td><strong>30</strong></td> <td>56</td> <td>66</td> </tr> <tr> <td>3GB VOB files NAS to PC (sec)</td> <td><strong>30</strong></td> <td>39</td> <td><strong>30</strong></td> <td>34</td> <td>34</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em>We connected the NAS boxes to an Asus RT-AC66U router and ran benchmarks on a wired client PC consisting of an Intel Core i7-930 processor, Asus P6X38D Premium motherboard, 4GB DDR3/1333 RAM, 240GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD, AMD Radeon HD 5840 graphics card, and 64-bit Windows 8.1.<br /></em></p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <h3>Spec Off</h3> <p><strong>The Big Chart of Specs</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u99720/qnap_back.jpg" width="620" height="388" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Pricier QNAP TS-470 features every port you'd want on a NAS</strong></p> <p>Choosing a NAS box can be difficult. The first order of business is to decide how many drive bays you need, both now and in the future. This affects both the potential storage capacity and your RAID options—for example, RAID 5 requires at least three disks. More drive bays typically translate into a higher price tag, too.</p> <p>We also feel it’s important to pay attention to the CPU and RAM combo. QNAP’s TurboNAS TS-470 is the only one that brought an x86 Intel dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM to the NAS party—every other box wields an ARM-based Marvell Armada 300 series single-core SoC and either 256MB or 512MB of RAM.</p> <p>Both the Buffalo LinkStation 420 and LaCie 2big NAS sport a single USB 2.0 port, the latter of which also has an eSATA connector. That’s about as bare-bones as it gets. QNAP’s TurboNAS TS-470 and Netgear’s ReadyNAS RN102 offer the most connectivity options, which is something to consider if you plan on attaching external storage or a USB printer. The QNAP TurboNAS TS-470 is especially well equipped for connecting devices—it has an HDMI port, dual LAN ports and power connectors, and even audio ports. It’s also the only NAS box in our roundup that’s 10-Gigabit ready—you can swap out its NIC for one with 10-Gigabit connectivity.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span><br /> <div class="module-content"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 620px; height: 265px;" border="0"> <thead> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>WD My Cloud EX4</td> <td>QNAP TurboNAS TS-470</td> <td>Netgear ReadyNAS RN102</td> <td>LaCie 2big NAS</td> <td>Buffalo LinkStation 420</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">CPU</td> <td class="item-dark">2GHz single-core ARM</td> <td>2.6GHz dual-core Intel</td> <td>1.2GHz single-core ARM</td> <td>2GHz single-core ARM</td> <td>1.2GHz single-core ARM</td> </tr> <tr> <td>RAM</td> <td>512MB</td> <td>2GB<br /><strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> <td>512MB</td> <td>256MB</td> <td>512MB</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Drive bays</td> <td class="item-dark">4</td> <td>4</td> <td>2</td> <td>2</td> <td>2</td> </tr> <tr> <td>2.5-inch support</td> <td>No</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>No</td> <td>No</td> </tr> <tr> <td>OS</td> <td>Linux</td> <td>QTS 4.0<strong><br /></strong></td> <td>ReadyNAS OS 6</td> <td>NAS OS 3 (Debian-based Linux)</td> <td>Linux</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Ethernet ports</td> <td>2 (Gigabit)</td> <td>4 (Gigabit); 10GbE-ready</td> <td>1 (Gigabit)</td> <td>1 (Gigabit)</td> <td>1 (Gigabit)</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Expansion ports</td> <td>2x USB 3.0</td> <td>2x USB 3.0, 3x USB 2.0</td> <td>2x USB 3.0, 3x USB 2.0</td> <td>USB 2.0, eSATA</td> <td>USB 2.0</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Kingston lock port</td> <td>No</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>No</td> <td>No</td> </tr> <tr> <td>DLNA, VMware, etc. </td> <td>DLNA, iTunes, Time Machine, CIFS/SMB, AFP, NFSv3, HTTP, FTP, P2P</td> <td>DLNA, iTunes, Time Machine, AirPlay, VMware, Citrix, Hyper-V, CIFS/SMB, AFP, NFSv3, HTTP, FTP, P2P</td> <td>DLNA, iTunes, Time Machine, VMWare, Citrix, Hyper-V, TiVO, UPnP, CIFS/SMB, AFP, NFSv3, HTTP, FTP</td> <td>LNA, iTunes, Time Machine, VMWare, Citrix, Hyper-V, TiVO, UPnP, CIFS/SMB, AFP, NFSv3, HTTP, FTP</td> <td>DLNA, iTunes, Time Machine, CIFS/SMB, AFP, HTTP, FTP, NFS, BitTorrent</td> </tr> <tr> <td>RAID</td> <td>0, 1, 5, 10, Spanning, JBOD</td> <td>0, 1, 5, 6, 10, 5 + Hot Spare, JBOD</td> <td>0, 1, 5, 6, 10, JBOD</td> <td>0, 1, JBOD</td> <td>0, 1</td> </tr> <tr> <td>HDMI</td> <td>No</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>No</td> <td>No</td> <td>No</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Idle power consumption</td> <td>25 watts</td> <td>33 watts</td> <td>15 watts</td> <td>17 watts</td> <td>12 watts</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Audio ports</td> <td>No</td> <td>1 Input, 1 Output</td> <td>No</td> <td>No</td> <td>No</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Dimensions <br />(W x H x D)</td> <td>6.30 x 8.21 x 8.67 inches</td> <td>7.09 x 6.97 x 9.25 inches</td> <td>3.97 x 5.59 x 8.66 inches</td> <td>3.5 x 7.8 x 6.7 inches</td> <td>3.43 x 5.02 x 8.07 inches</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Jumbo frame support</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Price</td> <td>$750</td> <td>$1,000 (street)</td> <td>$340 (street)</td> <td>$399 (street)</td> <td>$300 (street)</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Verdict (restate)</td> <td>8</td> <td>9</td> <td>8</td> <td>6</td> <td>7</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em><br /></em></p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> http://www.maximumpc.com/nas_storage_2015#comments box buffalo LaCie nas storage netgear network attached storage qnap Western Digital Features Tue, 13 Jan 2015 21:07:53 +0000 Paul Lilly 28388 at http://www.maximumpc.com The 10 Coolest Things We Saw at CES 2015 http://www.maximumpc.com/10_coolest_things_we_saw_ces_2015 <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u154082/digital_storm_aventum_3.jpg" alt="ces 2015 pc" title="ces 2015 pc" width="250" height="164" style="float: right;" />CyberPower Trinity PC, tiny PC on an HDMI stick, and more</h3> <p>While CES 2015 was more of an evolutionary year as opposed to a revolutionary one, there were some interesting devices in the PC space. If you’ve read our <a title="ces 2015 predictions" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/what_expect_ces_2015" target="_blank">CES 2015 prediction piece</a>, nearly all of that came true. We saw a bunch of VR headsets, assisted driving cars, and more. We’ve highlighted our favorite hardware from the show below.</p> <p>Did you have a favorite piece of hardware from CES this year? Let us know in the comments below!</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/10_coolest_things_we_saw_ces_2015#comments asus best ces 2015 coolest cyberpower Hardware lenovo origin pc pc razer News Features Tue, 13 Jan 2015 00:43:02 +0000 Jimmy Thang 29244 at http://www.maximumpc.com 20 Tips and Tricks to Use Google Drive Like a Boss http://www.maximumpc.com/20_tips_and_tricks_use_google_drive_boss_2015 <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u69/google_drive.jpg" alt="Google Drive" title="Google Drive" width="228" height="161" style="float: right;" />Get more out of Google Drive</h3> <p>With 240 million monthly active users, there's a good chance that if you're reading this, you've used Google Drive before. The cloud-based file storage and synchronization service is far more than a virtual storage container, it's also a parking spot for several of Google's other services, such as the company's productivity suite: Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. By binding these (and other) services together, Google is able to integrate intelligent functionality, such as real-time collaborative edits.</p> <p>Cool stuff for sure, but are you getting the most out of Google Drive? Probably not, although you could be if you take some time to learn Google Drive's little nuances and power user-level tricks. There are many out there, but rather than smack your behind and send you on your way, we've gone and put together a gallery containing 20 of the most useful tips, tricks, and tools available. So sit back for a spell, get comfortable, and click your way to becoming a better Google Drive user!</p> <p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="https://plus.google.com/+PaulLilly?rel=author" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="http://www.facebook.com/Paul.B.Lilly" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/20_tips_and_tricks_use_google_drive_boss_2015#comments cloud features gallery google drive tips tricks Features Fri, 02 Jan 2015 23:26:02 +0000 Paul Lilly 28810 at http://www.maximumpc.com What to Expect from CES 2015 http://www.maximumpc.com/what_expect_ces_2015 <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u154082/project_christine.jpg" alt="project christine" title="project christine" width="250" height="167" style="float: right;" />The Internet of things, VR, 5K monitors, and more</h3> <p>2015 is nearly upon us, and that means the next Consumer Electronics Show is right around the corner. We’ll be at CES 2015 and will provide you with in-depth news and videos on the latest tech from the show floor. But since we’re already super excited about the show, we thought we would give you our top 15 predictions for what you can expect to see at CES 2015.</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/what_expect_ces_2015#comments ces 2015 computers consumer electronics show Desktop gadgets las vegas maximum pc News Features Wed, 31 Dec 2014 20:03:47 +0000 Jimmy Thang 29139 at http://www.maximumpc.com Top 14 News Stories of 2014 http://www.maximumpc.com/top_14_news_stories_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u69/2014_news.jpg" alt="2014 News" title="2014 News" width="228" height="153" style="float: right;" />Looking back at another wild year in the tech sector</h3> <p>Two years ago, the world was supposed to end, based on the Mayan calendar. And last year, we heard about the death of the PC ad nauseam. Of course, neither of those things happened, setting up yet another event-filled 12 months of technology news that ran the gamut from a major security flaw affecting nearly every website on the Internet, to Blizzard announcing its first new PC game franchise in 17 years, plus a whole lot more.</p> <p>We're more anxious than ever to see what's in store for 2015, both internally (we have a new Editor-in-Chief, <a href="http://www.maximumpc.com/meet_maximum_pcs_new_editor--chief2014">say hello to Tuan Nguyen!</a>) and of course externally, with a new Windows OS release on the horizon. Prices of solid-state drives continue to fall, graphics cards are getting faster and offering more bang for your buck, virtual reality is closer than ever to being a mainstream thing, and Intel and AMD keep piling on more CPU cores for that inevitable day when software developers finally take full advantage of multi-core processing. It's going to be an exciting year indeed!</p> <p>However, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Before we cross over into 2015, let's take a moment to look back and give 2014 a proper goodbye. To do that, <strong>we've put together a gallery highlighting 14 of the more interesting tech stories of the past year</strong>. It's a trip back in time, if you will, so grab a bottle of grog, sit back, and let's toast another fun year together before we embark on a new one!</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/top_14_news_stories_2014#comments blizzard features gallery haswell-e heartbleed hgst intel maxwell microsoft net neutrality news Nokia north korea nvidia windows 10 windows xp Features Mon, 29 Dec 2014 17:45:39 +0000 Paul Lilly 29129 at http://www.maximumpc.com Mining for Mods: Grand Theft Auto IV http://www.maximumpc.com/mining_mods_grand_theft_auto_iv_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u166440/gta_iv_001.jpg" alt="GTA IV Car" title="GTA IV Car" width="200" height="146" style="float: right;" />ICEnhancer is easy to install, and somewhat easy on the eyes</h3> <p>While Rockstar Games is taking its time with the PC version of Grand Theft Auto V, PC gamers still have Grand Theft Auto IV to fall back on. Although the game is almost six years old, released back in 2008, modders have updated the visuals in various ways to help it keep up with the times. In particular, <a title="ICEnhancer website" href="http://www.icelaglace.com/mods/gtaiv/ice30/" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">ICEnhancer mod</span></a> mod has continued to impress with its upgrades to the game’s visuals.</p> <p>Curious to see what our copy of GTA IV would look like with this mod, we decided to test it out using a PC equipped with an AMD Phenom II X4 965 processer, Nvidia GeForce GTX 780, and 8GB of RAM.</p> <p>In order to compare both versions, we made sure that the game’s settings were ramped up to the maximum and presented in 1080p, so that the original game could look as good as possible. But despite adjusting all the settings to their highest, GTA IV’s age shows.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a title="GTA IV Comparison 001" href="http://i.imgur.com/agkPEno.gif" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u166440/gta_iv_comparison_004.jpg" alt="GTA IV Comparison 001" title="GTA IV Comparison 001" width="600" height="337" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Click image for an animated GIF</strong></p> <p>We then proceeded to download the ICEnhancer mod, created by Hayssam Keilany, and installed it. For those wishing to install it, you will need a program like WinRAR to extract the files. As a precaution, we recommend you back up the original game before installing ICEnhancer just in case something goes wrong. Once the files had been unzipped, we copied them into our Steam version of GTA IV,&nbsp; located in C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\Grand Theft Auto IV\GTAIV and made sure to replace the original files.&nbsp;</p> <p>There are two versions of ICEnhancer: and If you do not know which version you have, then locate the GTAIV.exe file, right-click it, and go to “Details” to see what version of the game you're running.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a title="GTA IV Comparison 002" href="http://i.imgur.com/lFY0iuk.gif" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u166440/gta_iv_comparison_003.jpg" alt="GTA IV Comparison 002" title="GTA IV Comparison 002" width="600" height="335" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Click image for an animated GIF</strong></p> <p>Installing the mod was very simple but the results of the ICEnhancer mod was not what we expected. There is an improvement to GTA IV’s look, but it is not as overwhelming as we thought or have seen before.&nbsp;</p> <p>While testing, we made sure to compare the original and modded versions under similar light conditions when possible. By doing this, we noticed a big difference when it came to lighting. With ICEnhancer installed, the modded game was much brighter when compared to the original.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a title="GTA IV Comparison 003" href="http://i.imgur.com/k8jzOny.gif" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u166440/gta_iv_comparison_005.jpg" alt="GTA IV Comparison 003" title="GTA IV Comparison 003" width="600" height="336" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Click image for an animated GIF</strong></p> <p>As a result, the sky’s color was a bright blue, clouds looked more realistic, and it was easier to see everything around us in the immediate vicinity; in the distance, though, there was a slight blur or haze. Then we noticed smaller things such as the sidewalk’s pavement having a bit more detail in the modded version. The same for the roads, ICEnhancer gives it a bit more definition with a gravelly look. We also saw that the vegetaion looks sharper and more defined in some cases.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a title="GTA IV Comparison 004" href="http://i.imgur.com/gk0EBJR.gif" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u166440/gta_iv_comparison_007.jpg" alt="GTA IV Comparison 004" title="GTA IV Comparison 004" width="600" height="336" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Click image for an animated GIF</strong></p> <p>The cars, though, really shine thanks to the mod. They look better and smoother, and are more detailed compared to the original game. Car windows are more reflective and transparent as well, and there's a nice sheen to the car paint compared to the original version’s, which looks dull in comparison. &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a title="GTA IV Car" href="http://i.imgur.com/J3vOlxt.gif" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u166440/gta_iv_comparison_008.jpg" alt="GTA IV Car" title="GTA IV Car" width="600" height="368" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Click image for an animated GIF</strong></p> <p>Unfortunately, the mod, like the game itself, is a resource hog. While trying to capture footage with FRAPs, our framerates dropped to around 15fps (as you’ll see that in the final segment of the video we recorded, below). These drastic drops occurred in areas with a lot of traffic or large bodies of water. We also experienced flickering from objects in the distance.&nbsp;</p> <p><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/cnCrQcF-we0" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p>So, we would advise you, obviously, to have a PC that can hold its own when running the ICEnhancer mod.</p> <p>What do you think of the changes? Have you tried out the ICEnhancer mod? Let us know in the comments.</p> <p><em>Follow Sean on&nbsp;<a title="SeanDKnight Google+" href="https://plus.google.com/+SeanKnightD?rel=author" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">Google+</span></a>, <a title="SeanDKnight's Twitter" href="https://twitter.com/SeanDKnight" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">Twitter</span></a>, and <a title="SeanDKnight Facebook" href="https://www.facebook.com/seandknight" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">Facebook</span></a></em></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/mining_mods_grand_theft_auto_iv_2014#comments Grand Theft Auto IV gta iv ICEnhancer ICEnhancer Mod rockstar games Gaming Features Fri, 26 Dec 2014 21:45:21 +0000 Sean D Knight 28634 at http://www.maximumpc.com Rig of the Month: Project PCB http://www.maximumpc.com/rig_month_project_pcb_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3><span style="font-weight: normal;"><img src="/files/u162579/pcb_34.jpg" alt="Project PCB Featured Image" title="Project PCB Featured Image" width="250" height="188" style="float: right;" />An inside-out computer</span></h3> <p>We’ve seen quite a range of computer modifications come into our inbox as part of the <strong><a href="http://www.maximumpc.com/articles/features/rig_month" target="_blank">Rig of the Month</a></strong> series, but we haven’t had many as well thought out as Stuart “noobas4urus” Johanson’s Project PCB. This month’s Rig of the Month is lovingly themed after the very PCBs that give it life. Stuart settled on a metallic green fleck paintjob with white accents alongside actual circuit boards that really complete the look.</p> <p>It’s based on the Silverstone TJ-08E case, an Asus Z87 Gryphon motherboard, an i5-4670K, an EVGA GTX 670 FTW, some customized Crucial Ballistix Tracer RAM, a modded Corsair H80i, and 20 feet of RGB LED lighting. There are so many LEDs that most of them shine through the custom PCB shrouds on the GPU and motherboard.</p> <p><em>Have a case mod of your own that you would like to submit to our monthly feature? Make sure to read the rules/tips&nbsp;<a style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; color: #cc0000; text-decoration: none; background: transparent;" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/rig_month_roundup_2014" target="_blank">here</a>&nbsp;and email us at&nbsp;<a style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; color: #cc0000; text-decoration: none; background: transparent;" href="mailto:mpcrigofthemonth@gmail.com" target="_blank">mpcrigofthemonth@gmail.com</a>&nbsp;with your submissions.</em></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/rig_month_project_pcb_2014#comments case mod computer case mod pcb Project PCB Rig of the Month rig of the month Silverstone Features Tue, 23 Dec 2014 21:28:26 +0000 Ben Kim 28955 at http://www.maximumpc.com How to Use Adobe Premiere Pro http://www.maximumpc.com/how_use_adobe_premiere_pro2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Productive video editing in less than 60 minutes!</h3> <p>We’re going to venture a guess that not all of Maximum PC’s readers will know the history behind Adobe Premiere, which was the first commonly available digital video editor when released in 1991. The best you could expect from it at the time was postage stamp–size videos of 160 x 120 pixels, but at least we were off and running. Or so we thought. Because the original Adobe Premiere (without “Pro”) had years of problems around synching audio to video. This limited its professional use, and opened the door for Apple's Final Cut to take over.</p> <p>Premiere Pro, released in 2003, was a rewrite of the program and fixed most of the issues. It's since been used for both offline and online editing of major motion pictures, commercials, and broadcast TV shows. And yes, it's still easy enough for us amateurs to use to edit the footage from either your toddler's second birthday party or your last debaucherous frat party (but do us all a favor and don't upload the latter to Youtube, OK?).</p> <p>Here’s a primer for anyone interested in using Premiere Pro to put together their next digital masterpiece.</p> <h4>Launch Adobe Premiere / Start New Project</h4> <p>You’ll see the now-familiar Adobe start menu that lists options for recent files, new files, and other helpful choices. Click “New Project...” to get started.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/premiere_01.png" alt="Premiere image 1" width="203" height="140" /></p> <p>The New Project dialog comes next. You can just click OK to proceed if you’re raring to go, as all the setting can be changed later. However, you may wish to fill in a project name and choose where it save it. The other options are mostly application preferences that you will set once and leave alone. You can mod these later if the need to do so arises.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/premiere_02.png" alt="Premiere image 2" width="165" height="165" /></p> <p>On to the workspace! By default, Premiere is divided into four tabbed/windowed sections. Clockwise from top-left they are: &nbsp;<br />Source Window (top-left) Displays selected source clips, i.e., original camera footage clips. Trimming and other work can be done in this section before placing the clip into the timeline.<br />Program Window (top-right) Displays the edited footage, with cuts, effects, and transitions.<br />The Timeline (bottom-right) This is the area where all the parts are put together, in chronological order.<br />Project Window bottom-left) This displays the source material, like the original camera footage, audio clips, and art. This window is sometimes referred to as the “bin,” a reference to the editing days of yore.<br />Note that both windows on the left also have tabs, allowing for other content and data to be displayed within those windows.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/premiere_03.png" alt="Premiere image 3" width="498" height="290" /></p> <h4>Import Content</h4> <p>Begin by bringing in your content. In this case, WEgrabbed a few video clips of the brilliant silent-era actor Buster Keaton (let's save Keaton vs. Chaplin debates for another time!), Scott Joplin’s classic song “The Entertainer,” and a title slide WEcreated in Photoshop. WEprefer to just drag all items from their desktop folder into the Project Window to import files (note the “Import media to start” line that is displayed in that window prior to content being added). Alternatively, you can use the various Import options found in the File menu.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/premiere_04.png" alt="Premiere image 4" width="196" height="142" /></p> <h4>Pre-Roll</h4> <p>Before we begin dropping clips into the Timeline Window (bottom-right), take note of how you can move your mouse over a video clip in the Project Window and see the clip animate as you mouse left and right. Then you can double-click a clip to open it in the Source Window (top-left). In this window, you can “scrub” (move the “Time Thumb” back and forth) or click the play button to get a feel for the video content, its timing, and hear its audio track. </p> <p>You can also set the Mark In and Mark Out points, which determine the clip's start and end times when dropped into the Timeline. Do this by moving the Time Thumb to the start frame desired, and then simply click the Mark In button at the bottom of the window. Next, move the Time Thumb to the desired end frame, and click the Mark Out button. Like all actions in Premiere, this is a non-permanent edit and can always be changed later. Now when you drag this clip from the Project Window to the main Timeline, it will be dropped in pre-edited for its In and Out points.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/premiere_05_0.png" alt="Premiere image 5" width="230" height="252" /></p> <p>This is a good time to look at some of the other tabs in both the Project and Source windows, and use the tools found there to make other modifications to the clip. The default interface of the Source Window contains these tabs:&nbsp; Source, Effect Controls, Audio, and Metadata. </p> <p>The Project Window tabs include:&nbsp; Project, Media Browser, Info, Effects, and Markers. Aside from the Project tab, the second most-used tab is Effects, where you will find video and audio filters and effects, as well as editing transitions that you’ll use later in the main Timeline. Effects for both video and audio can be drag-and-dropped over the clip in the Source Window to apply them (or later, over any clips in the Timeline). After an effect is applied, click in the Effect Controls tab to set the controls. Keep in mind that effects are not static, and can be changed over time, i.e. animated, using a smaller Timeline in that window.</p> <p>Animated effects are created by first activating the mini timeline by clicking any attribute's “stopwatch” icon at the left side of the window. You then create keyframes along the way, as needed. This is like having a mini After Effects within Premiere, and is very intuitive once you play with it a bit. Keyframes are automatically created at the frame the Timethumb is currently sitting on, anytime you modify an attribute. </p> <p>In order to see what changes you’re actually making, you will need to drag the Effect Control tab out of that window stack. In our example, we simply dragged it to the Program Window at the upper-right. Clip's effects can be further refined later after they’re placed in the main Timeline.</p> <p>So, if the Timethumb is on frame 00:01:05:11, the “stopwatch” icon had been made active, and you change the value of an attribute, a keyframe will automatically be created and show up as a diamond on the mini-timeline.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/premiere_06.png" alt="Premiere image 6" width="458" height="242" /></p> <p>Effects can be stacked, so you could apply a few different effects and have them all do their thing to a single clip. Fast computers, efficient software design, and graphics-accelerated cards (Adobe uses the “Mercury” engine) all make for real-time playback of clips with effects applied. At least to a point. Add too many effects and your playback performance will suffer. You can adjust for this by lowering your preview playback expectations.&nbsp; Do this in the Program (i.e., the playback window), using the Zoom and Resolution playback popup menus. A smaller playback image size, or lowered resolution will give a better playback efficiency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>Putting It All Together</h4> <p>Now comes the fun part: dropping the video clips and other elements into the main Timeline Window. This can be done by dragging one—or many—items from the Project Window, and dropping it/them in the Timeline Window. Dragging one item at a time gives you more control over where it’s placed. If you drag multiple clips at one time, they will be dropped into the Timeline sequentially along a track, in one clip after another. You can also drag the current clip open in the Source Window to the Timeline.</p> <p>Before you start all this dragging, be aware that if you simply drag a clip into the Timeline, Premiere will automatically create what it calls a Sequence. Any Premiere project can have multiple Sequences, which are great for advanced work (although we won't be covering advanced topics here). But this automatically created Sequence will inherit that first drag/dropped clip's name and specifications, which you may not want to happen. To avoid this, go to File &gt; New &gt; Sequence (or Ctrl + N) and choose the specs you want. This newly created Sequence will now appear in the Project Window, along with the other content items.</p> <p>In our example, WEcreated a Sequence with settings for HDV 30fps, progressive. With that in place, when the first clip containing different specs is dropped into the new Sequence, you will be asked if you would like to change the Sequence specs to match the clip. Generally, we would instead prefer the clip to be modified to match the Sequence we just created.</p> <p>When you begin to drag items into the Timeline, you’ll see that Premiere places the elements around a center horizontal line. Video/visual items stack above the line, and audio items stack below. Video clips with an audio track will show up with two timeline elements, one for the video content, and another for the audio content. These can be placed on V1 and A1, or V2 and V2, etc. Though locked together when first placed, once placed, the two elements can be treated independently and moved around to better suit your editing needs. You can even Unlink the two item completely, which would allow one to be deleted while keeping the other (either right-click, or use the Clip menu to get to Unlink option).</p> <p>Like all timelines, it starts at zero time at the far left, and moves chronologically as you progress to the right. As you drop items in, you may find it easier to change their Label Color, so that each clip visually stands out from its neighbor (right-click or use the Edit menu for Label options).</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/premiere_07.png" alt="Premiere image 7" width="498" height="166" /></p> <p>As seen in the screen grab above, we can both stack items next to one another on the Timeline across time (left to right), as well as on top of each other to create various transparent and multiplied effects. With the basic elements in place, we now want to start massaging these elements into something worth watching.</p> <p>We’ll start by working on our main title art. Note that while WEcreated this title in Photoshop and imported it, titles can also be created right inside Premiere Pro by going to the Title menu. These can be static or animated. Obviously, use the method that best fits the needs of your situation. Photoshop can create a much wider range of imagery and effects, and quite beautiful typography. When creating any kind of art in PS that is destined for video use, you can start your project by using one of the Film &amp; Video presets in PS's New... dialog.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/premiere_08.png" alt="Premiere image 8" width="208" height="152" /></p> <p>The Timeline Window allows an item's In and Out points to be set, though it is done a bit differently than in the Source Window. The Timeline Window has 12 tool options, which can be selected in a vertical bar just to the left of the Timeline. We’ll just work with the default tool for now, the Selection Tool.</p> <p>When you roll over the left or right edge of any item in the Timeline, the cursor will change into a red bracket (facing left or right, depending on which edge), with an arrow. Simply clicking and dragging will modify the clip's In or Out point.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/premiere_09.png" alt="Premiere image 9" width="232" height="208" /></p> <p>For the title art, WEwanted the In point to be flush left, and the Out point to be a about five seconds later. The next step is to set its opacity so that it fades in at the start, and fades out at the end. There are a few ways to do this in Premiere, but for this clip I'm just going to use the Effect Controls. Double-click the clip in the Timeline, and it will become active in the Source window.</p> <p>Once inside the Effect Controls tab, you will see Motion, Opacity, and Time Re-Mapping. All of these are default effects for clips with visual content, so we won't actually have to add any additional effects.&nbsp; Here's what we need to do:</p> <p>1. Turn the rotating arrow in front of Opacity, to open its attributes.<br />2. Click the Stopwatch to activate animation.<br />3. With the time set to zero, also set the opacity to zero. A keyframe diamond will appear.<br />4. Move the time a few frames ahead, perhaps 10 frames. (TIP:&nbsp; Use the arrow keys to advance the frame one at a time.)<br />5. Now, change the opacity a second time, to 100 percent, and another keyframe will appear.<br />6. Move ahead to about 4.5 seconds, where we want to put another keyframe at 100 percent opacity. Since this doesn't actually change anything, it is referred to as a “holding” keyframe. And since you are not changing anything, you need to force its creation by clicking on the Add/Remove Keyframe button, which can be found to the right. It looks like a diamond, sitting between a left- and right-facing arrow.<br />7. Now, move the Timethumb another 15 or so frames to the right, and bring the opacity down to zero.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/premiere_10.png" alt="Premiere image 10" width="232" height="136" /></p> <p>That’s it. You can scrub or play the segment now and should see a quick fade up, a hold, and then a slower fade out. One thing you will also notice is that the video clip sitting further down is at the start of the timeline. This is easily fixed by either dragging the clip to the right and tucking it away, or by clicking the edge of the clip—its In point—and editing the intruding frames out.</p> <p>By default, the Timeline is rather dull to look at. It's better to work with it set to show more information and controls. This can be done clicking on the Wrench icon menu, part of five such icon menu items near the top-left of the Timeline window. Select the Expand All Tracks option, and you will see the Timeline change. </p> <p>Now for a quick run through the audio. Since we don't want to use the audio tracks that are part of the videos, we can simply click the M icon at the left of the Timeline, which stands for mute. We could also click on the audio items, Unlink them from the video sections, and delete them. Either option will work. But leaving the audio in the file will let us add some sound from them back in later, if we decide we want to.</p> <p>Next, we drag “The Entertainer” clip in and place it, and we’re set. More tweaking is always possible, and there are many audio filters that can be used to make this track sound better. We leave these more advanced treatments to you to play with on your own.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/premiere_11.png" alt="Premiere image 11" width="498" height="196" /></p> <p>We’re ready for the final two adjustments. The first one is something that falls under the heading “Creative Accident.” This is when you happen upon something that may be more creative and interesting than you originally imagined. The trick with this type of creativity is to be open to it when it happens.</p> <p>For some reason, our first clip is showing very small in the frame. At first, we were just going to enlarge it to a reasonable size. But then we thought that it might actually be more visually interesting to allow it to start small and then enlarge it a little while later, which a zooming move.</p> <p>After playing the footage once through, with the music in place, we found the perfect place to do the zoom effect, right when the music changes directions around the eight second mark. This zoom is done in the Motion effect, using the keyframing as we did before, but this time on the Scale property.</p> <p>As part of our Creative Accident, we decided to fill the entire HD frame, which required some cropping of the original 4:3 ratio. After all, we’re not doing archival work here, and the cropping didn't adversely effect the material (sometimes it might).</p> <p>The last step is now to edit the last clip onto the end of the project. This last clip was never pre-trimmed in the Source Window, so we just scrubbed through some of it in the Timeline and found a part that would be good to start with. Going to the vertical toolbar, we selected the Razor Tool, used for cutting a clip into two parts. This is done very easily with a single click at the point you want the split. (One click will do this to both the video and audio sections.)</p> <p>We then went back to the selection tool, selected the new clip to the left of the split-point, and deleted it. Then we selected the remaining part of the clip and slid that over to abut our first video clip. What we have now is a hard cut edit, in other words, no transition effects. </p> <p>Many productions use hard cuts all the time, but for this we will drop in a cross-fade transition. This is done by opening the Effects tab and then the Video Transitions folder. There are many transition effects here, but the cross-fade that WEwant is found in the Dissolve folder. Click and drag it to insert right in between the first and second clips. As you prepare to drop the transition in place, you will see you have three options: to have the fade execute only on the first clip, only on the second clip, or across the two, which is usually our preferred option.</p> <p>This last clip also came in with the video smaller. But unlike the first clip, enlarging the material in this clip to fill the screen would not work well, so we simply made it as large as possible and will live with two black letterbox bars along the left and right of the screen.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/premiere_12.png" alt="Premiere image 12" width="497" height="263" /></p> <p>Obviously, more clips can be added, and a host of additional effects can be used to do a wide range of treatments. We can preview the&nbsp; project by simply hitting the spacebar to start and stop play in the Program Window. Or, we can hit the Enter/Return key to render the previews first before playing. This is a better option in many situations, but of course, takes longer.</p> <h4>Rendering</h4> <p>The very last step in making a movie is to render it out. This is done by either rendering a Sequence directly out of Premiere, or by sending the project out to Adobe's Media Encoder. Either option is done by opening File &gt; Export &gt; Media…. The details of compression and encoding can and have filled many books. But sending the file to Media Encoder by choosing the Queue button, offers quite a few presets that can make your work easier—though still not always “easy,” simply because there are so many preset options it is often hard to decide.</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/premiere_13.png" alt="Premiere image 13" width="391" height="267" /></p> <p>Rendering, even on a fast computer, is anything but instant. And the more effects you add, the longer it will take. High-def resolutions also take a big toll, so if you don't really need 1080, why render it?</p> <h4>It's a Wrap</h4> <p>Adobe's Premiere isn't a two- or three-button solution like some consumer-editing options. But with a little bit of effort, almost anyone can learn to use it. There is no need to learn it all, just learn what you need, at least for now. You’ll get your clips done, and can always add more as you go.</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/how_use_adobe_premiere_pro2014#comments Adobe Premiere Pro beginner's guide crash course how to tips video editing Features How-Tos Mon, 22 Dec 2014 20:19:15 +0000 Lance Evans 28990 at http://www.maximumpc.com The 10 Best Kickstarter Games http://www.maximumpc.com/The_10_best_kickstarter_games_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u166440/the_banner_saga_small.jpg" alt="The Banner Saga" title="The Banner Saga" width="200" height="174" style="float: right;" />Great games we love made possible by crowdfunding</h3> <p>The Kickstarter scene exploded a few years back, as gamers discovered the crowdfunding platform and began to fund various video game projects. The plethora of games seeking funding ranged from new concepts to sequels that boasted new, unique features or appealed to our sense of nostalgia. Because of Kickstarter, we have seen some amazing games that have raised <a title="MPC " href="http://www.maximumpc.com/kickstart_games_one_million_2013" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">millions of dollars</span></a> in funding, such as Star Citizen and Pillars of Eternity.&nbsp;</p> <p>Still, other Kickstarter projects raised much more money than their originally stated goals, thanks to an excited gaming community willing to fund them. However, over the past couple of years we’ve seen games that received funding way above their goals, then get cancelled due to not having enough funds (or other reasons).</p> <p>Clang, a project headed by science fiction author Neal Stephenson, was cancelled two years after its successful Kickstarter campaign, because of financial issues. Double Fine, which had two successful Kickstarter campaigns, has stumbled with financial issues, too. Over the past two years, quite a few projects have fallen to the wayside or not lived up to the ambitions set by the developers.</p> <p>Despite such examples, successfully funded games have slowly made their way to the community. So, we decided to list 10 Kickstarter games, in no particular order, that we feel are the best so far. However, we narrowed our list to games that have been completed and not being sold through Early Access.&nbsp;</p> <p>But before you check out the gallery, we must give an honorable mention to <a href="http://www.maximumpc.com/interview_frontier_developments_ceo_david_braben_about_elite_dangerous_video_2014" target="_blank">Elite: Dangerous</a>, which was recently released. It appears that it could easily make our "10 best" list but we didn't have a chance to play it before this article went to press. We will, however, consider updating this article with more high-quality AAA Kickstarter games as time progresses.</p> <p>Feel free to let us know which Kickstarter-backed game is your favorite in the comments below.</p> <p><em>Follow Sean on&nbsp;<a title="SeanDKnight Google+" href="https://plus.google.com/+SeanKnightD?rel=author" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">Google+</span></a>, <a title="SeanDKnight's Twitter" href="https://twitter.com/SeanDKnight" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">Twitter</span></a>, and <a title="SeanDKnight Facebook" href="https://www.facebook.com/seandknight" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">Facebook</span></a></em></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/The_10_best_kickstarter_games_2014#comments 10 best Kickstarter games Chivalry Medieval Warfare Defense Grid 2 Divinity Original Sin don't starve FTL Kentucky Route Zero Kickstarter games Shadowrun Returns Shovel Knight The Banner Saga Wasteland 2 Gaming Features Fri, 19 Dec 2014 20:57:47 +0000 Sean D Knight 29097 at http://www.maximumpc.com Best of the Best: Now Updated! http://www.maximumpc.com/best_of_the_best_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u69/best.jpg" alt="Best" title="Best" width="228" height="169" style="float: right;" />Maximum PC's "Best of the Best" List Gets Updated</h3> <p>The holiday shopping is in full swing, and though Black Friday and Cyber Monday have both come and gone, deals and savings are all over the place. If you're going to shop for computer hardware, this is one of the best times of the year to do it. And as an added bonus, you can write some of this stuff off on your taxes if you're building a new system for work chores.</p> <p>Deciding to buy new hardware is the easy part. Where it gets difficult is in deciding <em>which</em> hardware to purchase. To help make things easier for you, we've gone and updated our "Best of the Best" list one last time for 2014. We have refreshed entries for graphics cards, CPUs, motherboards, and storage.</p> <p>You can check out all of our new pics in the gallery below, though keep in mind this is a small sample of the complete list, which you can <a href="http://www.maximumpc.com/best-of-the-best" target="_blank">view here</a>. And hey, we know these things tend to stir up controversy, so if have a different pick in any given category, feel free to post it in the comments section along with a note as to why you think it's the best.</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/best_of_the_best_2014#comments best of the best Build a PC features gallery Hardware maximum pc Features Tue, 16 Dec 2014 21:32:27 +0000 The Maximum PC Staff and Paul Lilly 29010 at http://www.maximumpc.com How Logitech Is Reinventing the Mechanical Keyboard http://www.maximumpc.com/how_logitech_reinventing_mechanical_keyboard2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>We get an inside look at Logitech’s testing facilities in Switzerland</h3> <p>Logitech was once the premier PC gaming peripheral brand, but over the better part of a decade, the company shifted gears and started focusing on console accessories and other endeavors. In the years since, companies like Corsair, Razer, and SteelSeries have swooped in to take thunder away from the Switzerland-based company. With PC gaming being as big as it is today, Logitech tells us its wants to win back the hearts (and hands) of PC gamers everywhere.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/dsc01606.jpg" alt="Logitech G910" title="Logitech G910" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span style="text-align: start;"><strong>The new Romer-G keys feel closest to Cherry MX Brown switches.&nbsp;</strong></span></p> <p>To show us its commitment to the PC market, Logitech invited us to its testing facility in Lausanne, Switzerland. The location is a vital part of the design process, as the company works with EPFL—one of the top engineering universities in Europe—which is located right next door. In addition to working with students from the university, Logitech is also working with professional gamers from League of Legends, Dota 2, and Counter-Strike. The logic here is that if it’s good enough for the pros, then it’s good enough for the Joes.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/dsc01712.jpg" alt="logitech esports" title="logitech esports" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Logitech worked with League of Legends eSports team TSM and CS:GO's Cloud 9 to design its new peripherals.</strong></p> <p><em>At the facility, we toured the company’s keyboard and mouse labs. This article focuses on the company’s testing and design philosophies as they pertain to redesigning the mechanical keyboard. Stay tuned for the mouse write-up!</em></p> <p>If you’re unaware, Logitech recently released its <a title="g910" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/logitech_develops_custom_romer-g_switches_g910_orion_spark_mechanical_keyboard_2014" target="_blank">G910 Orion Spark mechanical keyboard</a>, which is a unique offering in that unlike 90-plus percent of all other mechanical keyboards out there, it doesn't use Cherry MX switches. Instead the company opted to design its own switch.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/qCvQknlT3Jc" width="620" height="349" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We sat down with Logitech to discuss its new Romer-G switch type.</strong></p> <p>The problem with Cherry MX switches, asserts Logitech, is that they were designed over 25 years ago and were meant for typing. With that premise, the company thought the formula could use some tweaking for gaming. According to Logitech, for instance, Cherry MX keys take four millimeters to bottom out. While that isn’t a huge delay, the company set out to lessen it. Logitech worked for two years with Japanese company Omron to design an exclusive switch, and dubbed it Romer-G. Logitech says the Romer-G is 25 percent faster, taking only three millimeters to bottom out.&nbsp;</p> <p>Another problem that Cherry MX keys face pertains to LED backlighting. If you’re sitting in front of an LED-backlit keyboard with Cherry MX switches, you may notice that only the top character of any given keycap is illuminated. This is because the lighting feature is generally tacked on above the Cherry MX switches. Logitech admits that this isn’t a huge problem with English-language keyboards, but that it can ruin the experience on Korean-language keyboards, which often use both the top and bottom halves of the keycaps to display a character. To remedy this, rather than placing the LED light above the switch, Romer-G keys integrate the lights directly on top of the t-shaped center of the switches themselves. The result is a much more uniform lighting experience, which is able to highlight all parts of a keycap evenly.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/dsc01661.jpg" alt="led backlighting" title="led backlighting" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Romer-G keys provide an even lighting experience.&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Speaking of keyboard lighting, the G910 Orion Spark only requires one USB cable to power both the keyboard and its RGB lighting. This is a bit of an anomaly, considering Corsair’s similar K70 RGB requires two separate USB cables, as do others. Usually, getting enough power from one USB cable to power both elements is tough. Many gamers like having the option of getting ample light out of their keyboards, but that often ends up requiring lots of power, especially when you throw multicolored keycaps into the mix. And though it’s not something users might realize off the bat, inconsistent lighting can really taint a keyboard. Things start looking like a jumbled mess if some keycaps are brighter than others. According to Logitech, achieving an extremely bright keyboard uniformity is pretty much impossible, given the constraints of a single USB port, which the company was adamant about delivering. It’s much easier to achieve uniformity at dimmer levels, but there’s a point where it gets so dim that users are dissatisfied. Logitech admitted that it had to play the balancing game between both spectrums, but feels it achieved a happy medium with its solution.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/b8IGVMWxjj8" width="620" height="349" frameborder="0"></iframe></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Logitech uses machines to test its keyboard for up to 70 million clicks.</strong></p> <p>One area in which Logitech hopes its customers are happy pertains to its rigorous testing methodology. The company guarantees its keyboards for up to 70 million cycles (clicks), which it claims is about 20 million more than its competitors. It does its testing using high-speed machines that can press keys 13 times a second (the limit of these robots). The machines do this for 62 days and, voilà! That’s where you get your 70 million clicks. What aids in the durability of its new switch types is dual-redundancy actuators. So if you spill Coke on your keyboard and one actuator gives out, there is a second actuator that acts as a backup.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/dsc01654.jpg" alt="logitech big roemer g" title="logitech big roemer g" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We're not entirely sold on the new indented keys, but Logitech says they're optimal gaming tactility.&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Another modification that Logitech incorporated into its Romer-G keys is the implementation of indented keys. We’re not sure how we feel about these keys yet, as there is a definite period of adjustment moving from the more traditional flat-facing keycap designs. Logitech says its internal surveys show that these indented keys provided a greater sense of tactility when gaming. The company claims that you really know when you click down on a button, as a result. Though initially too aggressive with the depth of its indentation (users reported that it hindered word-processing experiences), the company scaled back the depth .5 millimeters.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/EB95O-FUzxg" width="620" height="349" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>In the video above, a truck runs over Logitech's G910 keyboard and all the LED lights still seem to work.&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Beyond all the work that Logitech is doing on the hardware side, the company is also pushing its Arx Control mobile app. Compatible across Android and iOS devices, Logitech is working with game developers such as Valve, with the goal of allowing users to one day view in-game minimaps on their mobile devices. The app will also allow you to view your PC’s temperatures. The company’s G910 keyboard conveniently has a slot up at the top that allows you to drop in your phone or tablet of choice. &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/cmDZkxCa9fg" width="620" height="349" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Logitech gives us a demo of what it's Arx Pax software can potentially do.&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>The G910 Orion Spark is available now. Expect a full review of the keyboard in the magazine in the near future.&nbsp;</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/how_logitech_reinventing_mechanical_keyboard2014#comments cherry MX logitech maximum pc mechanical keyboard omron romer g switch Switzerland News Features Thu, 11 Dec 2014 22:54:41 +0000 Jimmy Thang 29072 at http://www.maximumpc.com