Ending subscriptions

I have decided to end subscriptions for Tech Specs. Existing subscribers for this month will be refunded at the end of the month, and all subscriber articles will still be accessible until the end of the month.

Tech Specs will not necessarily end as a blog, but as of now I don’t know what its future will hold. I need to reenter the tech industry for full-time work, and understandably employers generally don’t allow employees to blog. If I can continue to write in some capacity, I will, but I hope you will understand that it is unlikely to be at the same level of depth or weekly commitment.

I deeply, deeply appreciate the support of all my subscribers to date. If not for your support, I would have stopped blogging many months ago, and I honestly kept going as long as I could justify. The comments and questions on subscriber articles were especially great, so my thanks for all of those. Please do feel free to continue sending me any questions or comments via email or Twitter. I always try to respond eventually.

I know $10 a month was not cheap, and I debated launching new pricing options for many months. Ultimately, unless offering cheaper options would have increased the number of subscribers by an enormous multiple, it would have done very little to move the needle. There was no realistic path towards being able to justify the continued time and especially financial expense. I do feel like I could have eventually made the numbers work, at great effort, though it would have taken many years. That kind of time is unfortunately something I do not have.

Public writing was not something I had anticipated doing much of, as it was the benefit of circumstance. While my writing is not very good, I aimed for an intermediate-level of technical depth that was hopefully not too difficult to follow. It’s hard to say if that was the right call. My one regret is that I didn’t make time to write any introductory articles, or even a technical article or two. 

Above all, I’m sorry to disappoint everyone.

I will, however, write at least one more article for subscribers on one particular topic. I’ve put it off for a long time because it requires much more research than anything I’ve written about to date. You can probably guess the topic.

My thanks to everyone for reading, and hopefully this is not the end.

"Evolution of the img tag: Gif without the GIF"

Everyone loves GIFs, but they're technically awful. This replacement implementation is awesome. The WebKit/Safari team's work has been absolutely amazing in recent years, especially in regard to energy efficiency improvements.

Also:

Aside from not having a formal standard, animated WebP lacks chroma subsampling and wide-gamut support.

"Process Technology Limbo"

These are some highlights from Greg Yeric's keynote presentation at ARM TechCon 2017. Greg leads the Future Silicon Technology group within ARM Research and is as qualified as anyone to speak about the industry's current challenges.

It's a bit of a scary time for the silicon industry. Progress is slowing down in many areas, and it's unclear to everyone what technologies and processes will successfully drive advances in the future.

Introducing The List

With the increasing popularity of UHD TVs in the market and the Xbox One X’s awesome backwards compatibility support, I’ve been working on a small side project over the past few months to make sense of the increasing complexity of console and handheld gaming. Today I’m launching a public spreadsheet which I’m calling The List. Consider it a console gaming “optimization” guide.

The List is linked under a new Reference section of the blog, which I will be expanding over time to include various tech-related reference information. The goal is to list the best version and means of playing almost every (good) console or handheld game ever, within reason. For example, I’m guessing not many people would realize that the best way of playing of some original Xbox games is through an Xbox One X connected to a 1440p FreeSync monitor.

I’m sure this will disappoint some people, but I am not including PC games. This is for a couple reasons. In general, 95+% of multi-platform games will of course run best on the PC (on Windows, specifically), so there isn’t much value to add in that regard. Also, optimizing software settings for PC games and all their potential hardware configurations can be maddeningly complicated if you truly want to play without compromises.

Console gaming is just complicated enough that I think a simple guide has merits, especially with the advent of the PlayStation 4 Pro, Xbox One X, and even Nintendo Switch. This guide was initially inspired by the confusion created by the various output display modes of some games as part of their support for the PlayStation 4 Pro.

Unsurprisingly, I am heavily leaning on the excellent analysis of the folks at Digital Foundry, who are the best at head-to-head comparisons of games. While graphical and audio comparisons are fairly straightforward, comparing ports on features and overall quality is much trickier and more subjective. I will try my best to be thorough and fair.

I’m launching The List with 100 games to start with. I’m not sure if more than a couple people will find this project of value, but it’s worth a shot. It would be awesome if anyone would like to contribute suggestions or help out, but I am by no means expecting anything. And if anyone has any specific games they would like to learn more about, please do message me on Twitter. Thanks.

Guesting on the Android Central Podcast

Thanks to the fine folks at Android Central for hosting me on last week's episode of their podcast. We talked about the color accuracy of both Pixel 2 displays, factory panel calibration, software mitigations for burn-in, color management, Google's statement on the Pixel 2 XL, and more. Check it out if you're interested in a more in-depth discussion on the topic.

Assessing the Pixel 2 displays

There has been an absurd amount of misinformation circulating about the displays of Google's new Pixel phones. I’ve written hurriedly elsewhere about this, but one point I want to stress is that sRGB has little to do with anything. The devices run Oreo and are thus color managed.

To be completely clear, the 2 XL's panel is really bad, but we've also effectively known this was going to be the case for months based on the LG V30. After discussing with some smart folks, I’ll go ahead and speculate as to what’s going on. These are just some guesses, and none of this is confirmed.

You should never trust your eyes, and this needs to be properly tested and measured, but it does look like the display of the 2 XL undershoots the red and blue sRGB primaries and overshoots green. The panel is also clearly way too cold, which makes the off-axis color balance look really bad at large angles. There does appear to be a green push similar to that that could affect the Samsung Galaxy S4. Green shifting is about the worst result you can have for the color rendering of a display, because people associate it with nausea.

In addition to all of that, there are clearly various other traditional OLED issues and defects affecting the panel. Samsung Display OLED used to suffer from many of these problems, but the company managed to solve almost all of them over the past few years.

None of this can be fixed in software. It’s just a bad panel.

The calibration itself is software. The Pixel 2 XL’s panel is definitely not individually calibrated, and probably not even batch calibrated. LG Display appears not to have the appropriate equipment and workflow for adequate calibration. Google probably could have paid sufficient money to buy this for the production line and made sure it got done, but it’s also possible the fabs are too immature and this was somehow not feasible.

LG Display was not originally going to ship OLED smartphone displays this year, but seemingly rushed to re-enter the market due to high demand from vendors wanting to better position against the upcoming iPhone X, for all the wrong reasons. (I’m hearing that some vendors now want displays with notches, which is spectacularly depressing.)

The Samsung Display OLED on the 5.0” Pixel 2 meanwhile appears to be pretty reasonable at a distance. These displays are possibly individually calibrated. I strongly suspect it’s actually the same panel that the first Pixel phone used, except now calibrated to the Display P3 color space as well as could be managed. Google added some software to Android Oreo to allow for this, which is the same sort of thing vendors like Samsung and Qualcomm have been doing for many years for tons of devices.

On a final note, one thing Google has always done wrong is include optional or even default color profiles that are deliberately inaccurate. The "Vivid" setting should not exist if the product managers truly care about accuracy, and I hope Google doesn't add any more in response to all this overblown controversy. Perception of "dull colors" is not the problem to solve. No consumers complain about the accurate color rendering of an iPhone.

Resonant Qi and the iPhones

I previously did a really poor job of explaining the new iPhones’ wireless charging support, so I would like to rectify that. The new iPhones are Qi 1.2.3 devices, but the iPhone 8 currently only supports Qi 1.1.X. This means inductive-only charging, and no fast charging.

The resonant extension of the Qi standard was introduced with 1.2 in 2014, and compatible chargers have been available for years. Qi 1.2 also supports simultaneously charging multiple devices with optional WP-ID unique identifiers for power receivers.

The resonant specification allows for charging at greater distances (implementation-dependent) and does not require precise device-charger alignment. The medium power extension for 1.2 allows for charging above 5W using Extended Power Profile chargers, and the first devices came to market in 2016.

Apple is using Broadcom’s 2014 BCM59350 which only supports charging up to 7.5W. This limits the many resonant Qi chargers in the market that support up to 15W of power delivery. An upcoming iOS update will add support for Qi 1.2.3 and 7.5W (5V/1.5A) charging on an unknown date.

What I should have originally stated in my iPhone X article is that inductive charging is mostly useless, and resonant charging is only a little better at the moment. Far-field resonant charging will eventually provide a reasonable experience in the future. Of all the available options, Apple has chosen to bet on the future of the Qi specification.

 

Update

Here's a good explanation of resonant vs. inductive Qi.

"How Google Built the Pixel 2 Camera"

This is an excellent visual overview of smartphone camera imaging. It even covers demosaicing and how vendors perform objective robotic testing.

“There’s a saying in engineering: if you haven’t really tested, it’s broken.”

Uh huh.