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OFFLINE Last Active Apr 24 2012 08:08 AM
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Apex Legends launches its first season, introduces new character Octane

Today, 01:38 AM

After reaching an astonishing 50 million players in less than a month, Apex Legends has now officially launched its first season, dubbed Wild Frontier. 

Players on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC are now able to purchase the Wild Frontier Battle Pass for 950 Apex Coins, entitling them to a new character in Octane (available separately for 750 Apex Coins or 12,000 Legends Tokens) and the ability to earn 100 new items, such as Legend Skins, Apex Coins and a new legendary Havoc skin.

As a reference, Apex Coins start at $9.99 (around £7.50 / AU$14.15) in real world money for a pack of 1,000.

Octane is a colorful character who possesses robot legs, incredible speed, self-healing abilities and a Launch Pad Ultimate Ability which other team members can also take advantage of. 

You can find out more about Octane's play style and special abilities in the character trailer below.

Along with this speedy new Legend, the Wild Frontier Battle Pass also offers the ability to earn 100 new items, such as Legend Skins, Apex Coins and a new legendary Havoc skin. 

Players who want to get a head start can immediately unlock the first 25 levels (out of 100 available in Season 1) by purchasing the Battle Pass Bundle, which costs 2,800 Apex Coins.

Check out the trailer for Apex Legends' Season 1 Battle Pass below.


Why Google Stadia could have the PS5 and Xbox Two running scared

Today, 12:01 AM

Google has introduced Stadia, its streaming game platform that will let you play graphics-intensive mainstream games from within a Chrome browser window using a basic internet connection, no hardcore hardware needed. These are big claims, but if Google can pull it off, Stadia could change the gaming landscape. 

Here’s why it might take a chomp out of the marketshare from the upcoming PlayStation 5 and Xbox Two.

First up: we know very little about either next-generation console... not even their release dates. Some rumors have suggested a PS5 could be coming some time in 2019, others say we won’t get it ‘til 2021. Yet more rumors about the Xbox Two consoles (plural!) have them coming possibly in 2019 but likely 2020, though news has been thinner about Microsoft’s consoles.

In other words, they’re coming so soon that it’s doubtful that either Sony or Microsoft could make dramatic changes to their consoles in response to Stadia before their release – the trains have left the station. But it’s unlikely that they’ll come out before Google’s platform launches, which the company officially announced would be some time in 2019.

Let’s start with the stakes. Google Stadia runs entirely off of company servers – players simply have to open up a Chrome browser window, load up the service, pass a connection test (Google requires a streaming rate of 15Mbps, latency below 40ms, and data loss below 5%), and they can play anything in Stadia’s catalogue. So far as we know, there aren’t any other requirements.

On stage, Google demonstrated playing the graphics-intensive game Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey through Stadia on low-specced computers and a Pixel tablet. Hardware doesn’t seem to be holding the platform back, and Google claims it will work on a wide array of desktops, laptops and devices – as well as use a plethora of existing controllers, keyboards and peripherals.

Google’s service was effectively demoed as Project Stream, which wrapped up in January after a public beta had players streaming Assassin’s Creed on everyday machines. Assuming all the broad components of Stadia work as advertised, the PS5 and Xbox Two consoles may have serious competition when they launch – and might even look a bit old-fashioned. 

Image credit: Google

Leaving the console behind

“The future of gaming is not a box,” as Stadia’s official page boldly proclaims. This is a very clear shot across the bow of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, which have dictated progression through generational consoles. 

Instead, Stadia will operate on Google servers packed with custom GPUs built in partnership with AMD that aim to deliver 10.7 teraflops of power (compare that to the 4.2 teraflops of the mid-generation PS4 Pro or 6 of the Xbox One X). Players with a basic internet connection will be able to play on what will, presumably, be a very wide range of devices, many of which players already own. All they have to do is run Chrome.

In short, Google is handling the march of progress for game tech – all you have to do is sign up for Stadia. Sure, we don’t know how much it’ll cost (are there sign-up fees? Subscription dues? Price per game?), but it would have to be a seriously expensive service to out-price a next-generation console. Again, we don’t know how much the PS5 or either of the rumored Xbox Two consoles will cost, but seeing as the Xbox One was priced at US$499/£429/AU$599 at launch back in 2013, we’re assuming the next ones will be pricier. 

Tack on extra peripherals and/or services like the $10-per-month Xbox Game Pass and console gaming could face a lot of competition so long as Stadia is priced right. 

Streaming possibilities

Image credit: Google

Google is audaciously claiming that players will get a norm of 4K resolution at 60fps on Stadia, which will eventually climb to 8K and over 120fps. Doom Eternal will be one of the first games on the service, and id CEO Marty Stratton said on Google’s stage that the Stadia version of the game will support 4K/HDR/60fps. How?

Because Google, really. The company runs the servers where games are rendered, eliminating intermediate steps, which means the only thing that changes from player to player is latency. The experience is standardized.

Which means... well, a lot of things. Google can integrate a lot of its services directly into the experience, which we saw demonstrated at the Stadia announcement. Stuck in-game? Ask Google Assistant for help. Watching a streamer play a game on YouTube? Join that game with a button press. Friend stuck? Join their game by clicking a link. This is streamlined even further by the proprietary controller, which has buttons dedicated to each of these perks. 

There’s a lot of integration and optimization that consoles won’t have. Their big advantage, of course, is local processing, which is a feather in their cap to appeal to players in areas without robust internet. But given the intermediate steps Stadia eliminates, this may not be as much an obstacle as we’d expect. We’ll have to see how much connectivity players need to make the most out of Stadia.

It’s not like console makers have ignored streaming game platforms, obviously: one rumor has the first Xbox Two console, codenamed Lockhart, as a cheaper disc-less console that streams games from the cloud. It’s Google’s infrastructure advantages that might make the difference in this fight.

Image credit: Google

Co-op so easy, it should be required

“Stadia will, of course, embrace full cross-platform play,” said Google’s Phil Harrison during the platform’s announcement. The prospect of cross-play has been so contentious that only enormously successful games like Fortnite have had the clout to more or less force cross-platform play.

But it’s not just playing with your friends – Stadia enables developers to let players bring over their game saves and progression. This is a bigger deal than just storing your progress on one company or platform’s cloud: it’s obnoxious to have made a lot of progress in the PC version of a game and buy it again elsewhere (like, say, the Nintendo Switch), only to have to start all over. 

The death of couch co-op is another popular lament, and some developers have stated that performance suffers with local co-op in today’s high-performing games. Of course, when you have hundreds of server-side GPUs rendering your game, this is a thing of the past, and those developing exclusively for Stadia should expect zero performance dips during couch co-op. How does local console processing compete with that?

Image credit: Google

Developers, start your engines

On stage, Google showed off a cool trick for Stadia: using machine learning, the platform lets developers feed an image into a game engine, which applies a matching art style to the visual landscape of whatever game the developer is building. That’s cool, and shows off artistic applications of Stadia’s (and Google’s) processing muscle. 

It’s unclear how many more toys Google will provide developers to incentivize them to build on its streaming platform, but one thing we can predict: developers won’t have to fret over a lot of the downsides of digital gaming, like downloading patches or players with different versions of games. Just update on the server, and everyone plays the same edition. It’s hard to imagine next-gen consoles achieving that kind of game version parity.

There’s another advantage developers have for working on Stadia, and it involves State Play, a feature that lets anyone click a link to immediately load up an instance of a game with a particular world, player-character and item state. “Can you get yourself out of this sticky situation?” the on-stage demo suggested.

But think about what else a developer, especially smaller ones, might do with that feature. Players can send dev teams their favorite moments, and the dev teams can rebroadcast those moments on social media. Sure, players can use ‘share’ buttons on PS4 and Xbox One to broadcast screenshots and clips, but who knows if next-gen consoles will have pathways letting players and developers jump into each others’ game-states by something as easy as clicking a hyperlink?

Image credit: Google

Players playing... anywhere

This might be the cheapest shot, but it bears mentioning: if you can play some of the latest games on a cheap tablet anywhere, why would you buy an expensive console that’s stuck in your home? 

Google is claiming a lot with Stadia, but the platform could change how and where we play. The Nintendo Switch has cruised to record sales on its hybrid portable-home form factor. Imagine that same portability, but at a cheaper cost and not bound to a single system. 

Play on your tablet while out and about and then on a bigger screen when you get home. Heck, you can even play on a huge screen linked to a Chromecast. And if you lose your device? Don't worry – just pick up the game on another. All you need is something that runs Chrome and a decent internet connection.

This might not be a death sentence for Xbox Two and PS5; one TechRadar editor pointed out that Fortnite has attracted plenty of younger players on their phones, and some have likely invested in more established gaming as a result. 

The question is whether Stadia can achieve the same experiences as the Xbox Two and PS5, or if the latter will have their own must-have features or interoperability. Who knows? Not us. We’re still in the dark about the next generation of consoles. But if they can’t justify their high cost against Google’s colossal network advantages, this could be one of (if not the) last console generations.


First Look: Stadia Controller

Yesterday, 10:09 PM

At Google’s opening keynote at this year’s Game Developers Conference, CEO Sundar Pichai unveiled the future of game-streaming: Stadia

The correct plural pronunciation of the word ‘stadium’, Stadia will offer gamers an arena to watch and participate, game and stream their games to the wider world. It’s ambitious and, despite some huge unknown factors like cost, game library and recommended specs, potentially game-changing. 

Part and parcel of Stadia is the new Stadia Controller – a Wi-Fi-enabled gamepad created by Google’s hardware team that will help you get the most from the streaming service when it launches later this year. 

Now, you don’t need the controller to use the streaming service: Stadia can be played with any controller you already own, including your keyboard and mouse if you’re playing on a laptop and PC. But this first-party controller unlocks the next-level functions Google is building into its streaming service, like Google Assistant, that offers in-game help on-demand and its share button that will trigger Google to start a second stream of your game live on YouTube Gaming.

Inside the halls at the Game Developers Conference we got the chance to check out the controller for ourselves and while we weren’t allowed to put it to the test for ourselves, we could get up close and personal with the bridge between you and Google’s hyper-powered streaming service.

Design

Whatever it says to the contrary, Google is a relative newcomer to the AAA gaming space. Sure, it single-handedly created the gaming-enabled Android TV, the operating system of both microconsoles like the Nvidia Shield and stellar Sony TVs like the Sony X900F, but it’s not the first name that comes to mind when you think of mainstream gaming manufacturers like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. 

That said, it’s no wonder Google has sought inspiration from 'the Big Three' in terms of its controller the design – the Stadia Controller is exactly what you’d get if you mashed the Xbox One gamepad with Sony’s DualShock 4

Image Credit: TechRadar

The result is a flatter gamepad that doesn’t have the sharp contours of the DualShock 4 or the indents of the Xbox One. Instead, it has this almost space-age look to it that some will love for its simplicity and others will decry as uncomfortable, awkward-looking and cheap. 

Where gamers will find some crossover between this new pad and the controllers they’ve come to know and love is with the Xbox-style face buttons (A,B,X,Y) and in-line control sticks that mirror both the alignment and the concavity of the sticks on the DualShock 4. There’s a D-pad in the top-left corner that looks like it could be either fantastically responsive or awfully mushy depending on the resistance. (Though, the same could be said for literally every button on the controller including the left and right triggers and bumpers located on the back of the controller.)

Pockmarking the face of the controller where you’d expect to find the Start and Select buttons are four new buttons in addition to the home button located in between the joysticks that we’ll cover in the next section. 

Last but not least, while Google has mostly shown images and video of a white controller, we were also able to track down a black version that was in a case outside the show floor. 

Image Credit: TechRadar

Performance

So what will it be like to use the controller to play games like Doom Eternal or Assassin’s Creed Odyssey? At this point no one really knows – Google included. That’s because the controller has not actually cleared the FCC certification process yet and could, theoretically, change how it works before it comes out later this year.

That said, while we can’t give you the final verdict on performance right here right now, we do know that the wireless Stadia Controller will have a slight edge on the Xbox One in terms of latency, as Google built it to work over Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth. Connecting directly to your router could cut out crucial milliseconds of delay and save you lives in platformers and frustration in the real world. 

That said, although the controller looks like it’s meant to be used wirelessly, there is a USB-C port on the back that will be used for charging. Every Google rep we spoke to couldn’t comment on battery length (again, FCC clearance is key here) but told us that information will be made available publicly before the Stadia launch.

What about all the new buttons on the front of the controller? 

Google Assistant (the three bubbles) is relatively self-explanatory – it’s your direct access to Google’s virtual assistant. During its opening keynote at GDC, Google told the audience that the Google Assistant could potentially offer tons of in-game functionality like walkthroughs, guides or another feature set specifically by the developer, but didn’t say whether we’d be able to use it for everyday tasks like turning off the lights or setting reminders. 

The other even-more-nebulous feature that you'll find on the Stadia Controller is the YouTube button that connects you straight to the streaming service. 

In its keynote, Google said that pressing the button will cause the service to create a second identical stream that will be posted live to YouTube Gaming that will act as a record of all your adventures in-game. When we asked reps to elaborate on that, however, most said that we'd have to wait for more information. For now we can assume that the controller and the service itself will have a close tie to YouTube Gaming and while we're not 100% clear on what form that will take, it seems like the Controller is the device that will be crucial to closing the gap.

Final thoughts

The old adage about not judging a book by its cover seems to apply nicely here: Until we know what it's like to hold and to use for an extended period of time, it's impossible to pass judgment on the Stadia Controller. 

That probably won't stop everyone else from doing it, however.To that end, expect to see a lot of polarizing opinions out there on the internet. Some will love it for its integration of Google Assistant and direct access to YouTube. Others will likely label its flat, space-age design as out-of-touch and awkward. 

But hey, if anyone can take a good hardware design and re-purpose it, it's Google.


Best FreeSync monitors for G-Sync: get the Nvidia G-Sync display for less

Yesterday, 09:54 PM

Nvidia launched G-Sync five years ago, promising the end of screen tearing and visual artifacts. And, while the technology has certainly had its fair share of controversy, it’s become one of the best monitor technologies. Recently at CES 2019, Nvidia decided to port its G-Sync technology to FreeSync monitors designed to work with AMD graphics cards. 

After testing 400 FreeSync monitors, Nvidia recently announced that 15 of them were worthy of G-Sync, opening the tech up to more affordable displays. But, how do you find the best FreeSync monitor for G-Sync?

So, when you go out to pick up the best FreeSync monitor for G-Sync, there are just a couple of things you need to take into consideration. First, is obviously going to be a high refresh rate. Because G-Sync will automatically change the monitor’s refresh rate to match your framerate in-game, shoot for the highest refresh rate you can get. 144Hz should be perfect for most people. 

Then, of course, you’re going to want to find a monitor with fast response time. If you’re big into esports, finding the fastest monitor is literally game-changing, so 1ms should be the goal. However, if you’re more into laid-back adventures, like Astroneer, this is not as big of a deal.

This is a lot to take in, but we here at TechRadar have your back. We’ve picked out the five best FreeSync monitors for G-Sync, so you can spend less time shopping and more time gaming. 

Asus MG278Q

Image Credit: Asus

TN panels make for great gaming monitors, even if they aren’t the most beautiful things in the world. They’re fast, affordable, and they’re color accurate enough for games, without going to the extremes needed for professional work. That’s why when we heard that the Asus MG278Q was one of the FreeSync monitors approved for G-Sync, we were appropriately excited. This monitor checks all the right boxes for an esports monitor, without driving the price through the roof. 

Read the full review: Asus MG278Q

AOC Agon AG322QC4

Image Credit: AOC

The AOC Agon AG322QC4 isn’t the fastest gaming monitor out there (look at the entry above this one for speed), but it might be one of the prettiest. One of the prettiest that doesn’t cost a fortune at least. Not only is this a FreeSync monitor that now supports G-Sync, but it also supports HDR 400, so games that support it will look especially vibrant, on top of being tear-free. We wouldn’t recommend it to esports players, but everyone else should keep their eyes on this one. 

Read the full review: AOC Agon AG322QC4

Asus ROG Strix XG258Q

Image Credit: Asus

Let’s say you’re practicing to become the next big CS:GO or Overwatch world champ, but you just don’t feel like your monitor can keep up. You could go for some 144Hz panel, but why not go all the way? Why not go for a 240Hz 1080p panel, especially one packed with RGB lighting and a slick 1ms response time? We’ll that’s what you’re getting with the Asus ROG Strix XG258Q, and while that price tag seems high, it’s worth it for buttery-smooth frame rates.

Acer XG270HU

Image Credit: Acer

We know we’re not the only ones that love tech that looks as good as it performs, and the Acer XG270HU definitely fits the bill. This beautiful red monitor is packing a 27-inch TN panel with a 144Hz refresh rate and 1ms response times. This is one of the best FreeSync monitors for G-Sync, and it’s got the style to back it up – even if we wouldn’t exactly call it the ‘gamer aesthetic.' 

BenQ Zowie XL2740

Image Credit: BenQ

BenQ’s Zowie monitors are beloved for their esports cred these days, so when the BenQ Zowie XL2740 showed up on Nvidia’s list of FreeSync monitors for G-Sync, we were excited. This pro gaming monitor features a 240Hz refresh rate, 1ms response time and decent color accuracy for a TN panel.  These specs, combined with an attachable screen shield make for a gaming monitor that esports players will want to take to every tournament. 

  • Find the best Nvidia GeForce graphics card to go with these G-Sync displays

Mirai botnet returns to target IoT devices

Yesterday, 06:59 PM

A new variant of the Mirai malware targeting IoT devices has been discovered in the wild by security researchers from Palo Alto Networks.

The researchers first discovered this new strain earlier this year and now it is being used in a new IoT botnet targeting smart signage TVs and wireless presentation systems.

The authors of the botnet have spent a great deal of time upgrading older versions of the Mirai malware with new exploits and according to Palo Alto Networks, this new Mirai botnet uses 27 exploits with 11 that are completely new to Mirai altogether.

Mirai's built-in list of default credentials has also been expanded by the botnet operator to allow the malware to more easily gain access to devices that use default passwords. In total, four new username and password combinations have been added according to a new report from Palo Alto Network's Unit 42.

IoT devices

This new Mirai botnet is intended to infect IoT devices with exposed Telnet ports through the use of default credentials which many hardware makers continue to leave unchanged despite the security risks they pose.

While previous botnets using the Mirai malware have targeted routers, modems, security cameras and DVRs, the latest one is intentionally targeting smart signage TVs and wireless presentation systems, specifically LG's Supersign TVs and the WePresent WiPG-1000 wireless presentation system.

Both of these exploits have been available online for some time but this is the first instance researchers have seen of them being weaponized.

To avoid having your devices fall victim to the Mirai botnet, it is recommended that you only use devices from trusted manufacturers and immediately change the default passwords on those devices.

Via ZDNet