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New Kinect-free edition unlocks memory bandwidth reserved for Microsoft's camera sensor

Given Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) supply struggles, sales struggles, and privacy concerns regarding the Xbox One's "Kinect" video and audio sensor, it's perhaps unsurprising that Microsoft decided to at last offer a cheaper ($399) SKU of its console without the sensor.  Now that decision has brought about an interesting twist -- Xbox One users who ditch the Kinect may be able to enjoy better graphics performance.
 
It turns out that Microsoft's always-on sensor reserves as much as 10 percent of its graphics hardware's memory bandwidth and processing resources for watching its user(s).  Comments a Microsoft spokesperson to Eurogamer:

Yes, the additional resources allow access to up to 10 per cent additional GPU performance.  We're committed to giving developers new tools and flexibility to make their Xbox One games even better by giving them the option to use the GPU reserve in whatever way is best for them and their games.

According to Eurogamer and The Verge, Microsoft will for the first time be allowing game developers to use these freed up resources to enable special "Kinect-free" enhanced graphics settings.  While that's good news for Xbox One gamers, it also adds an interesting extra nuance to an already heated debate.

Xbox One Kinect

Microsoft's Xbox One has trailed its rival Sony Corp.'s (TYO:6758) console after committing a number of missteps, including initially planning to use DRM to ban used games and threatening to make users' consoles unplayable offline.  While it later recanted on each of these controversial terms, the console has continued to struggle through a number of controversies.  To add insult to injury, Sony recently announced that its rival offering, the PlayStation 4 (PS4) was already profitable.
 
Nonetheless it has moved millions of units and isn't too far behind Sony's PS4 in lifetime sales.  Microsoft has remained very committed to its console, releasing a major update in April.
 
The future of the Xbox One should be elucidated at next week's 2014 E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo), which is being held in Los Angeles, Calif.  Stephen Elop, the new executive vice president of Microsoft Devices (which makes the Xbox), is expected to present his vision for the future of the console along with new Xbox chief Phil Spencer at Microsoft's Monday, June 9 press event.

Sources: Eurogamer, via The Verge, Microsoft



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What a way with words.
By EasyC on 6/5/2014 11:47:01 AM , Rating: 3
The GPU is 10% faster they say!

Hooray! Except when you actually read and understand whats going on. They used 10% of the memory and processing resources for kinect functions. That won't equate to 10% better performance. Many games won't see much performance benefit.

But I get it. It's technical lingo run through a marketing haze. They know they made the slower console, and now they are trying to bridge that gap by claiming a 10% speed increase...when that 10% is really just an aggregated resource measurement, not processing throughput.

Alas, I hope they do better. I don't want Sony feeling too comfortable.




RE: What a way with words.
By retrospooty on 6/5/2014 1:37:03 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, it might in this one case, because the bottleneck by far on the XBO is memory bandwidth. It is the weakest point, so adding 10% there helps alot.


RE: What a way with words.
By EasyC on 6/5/2014 2:13:08 PM , Rating: 1
They aren't adding bandwidth, they are adding space by freeing resources that were previously in use. Bandwidth is the measurement of volume as it relates to processing. Usually noted in some unit/time. Take RAM, for instance. If a 4GB stick of RAM has a bandwidth of 50GB/s, it doesn't matter if you have 90% or 100% of the RAM available. The bandwidth is constant.

Now, the observed speed increase can come with code optimization. They need to optimize the code to use the extra resource, unless there was forethought to make it scalable. Even then, the resources the games were created with were targeted at the prior capacity. Is it worth the effort of optimizing your product on the less popular system? That's up to the game studios. Given MS's stern nature about kinect at launch, I doubt many game developers created their games with this situation in mind.

I am a little concerned that DX12 won't bring any further performance boost. PS4 can employ Mantle, and gain a boost there, so the resources aren't yet fully tapped. I feel that MS might need nothing short of a hardware redesign to remain competitive at that mark. Then you'll have REV1 customers all in an uproar. We shall see, I suppose.


RE: What a way with words.
By retrospooty on 6/5/2014 3:17:02 PM , Rating: 2
Come on... Adding the 10% by not utilizing it elsewhere, you know what I meant. MEm bandwidth is the slow point on XBO, this helps it where help is needed the most is all I am saying... Good move.


RE: What a way with words.
By retrospooty on 6/5/2014 3:30:33 PM , Rating: 2
Also, note what it says. Kinect doesn't reserve 10% of memory total storage, it reserves 10% of the bandwidth... "Microsoft's always-on sensor reserves as much as 10 percent of its graphics hardware's memory bandwidth and processing resources for watching its user(s)"


RE: What a way with words.
By EasyC on 6/5/2014 6:05:37 PM , Rating: 2
Yea, that statement is what my initial post is about. They are mislabeling their measurement for the sake of marketing. Wouldn't be the first time a company has done it.

Ahh the wonders of "statistics".


RE: What a way with words.
By retrospooty on 6/6/2014 1:03:57 PM , Rating: 1
So you are saying its not actually "10% of the bandwidth" it was actually "10% of the memory"? If that is true it wont help much.


RE: What a way with words.
By inighthawki on 6/6/2014 8:57:26 PM , Rating: 2
I don't believe you're correct. This is not 10% of memory capacity. Microsoft would be completely out of their mind to remove their Kinect requirement to get 800MB of memory back - something that would have little to no impact on performance. It's pretty unlikely many games even utilize the full 5GB that are available.


RE: What a way with words.
By karimtemple on 6/5/2014 7:58:23 PM , Rating: 4
You're just being argumentative. The Kinect system is specced up to a given bitrate, so obviously Microsoft would limit resources to everything else to guarantee Kinect functionality. That means the phrase "the bandwidth is constant" is inaccurate the way you used it. The bandwidth available to [non-Kinect processes] is changing, in this case, from 90% to 100%.

Also DX12 will do as little for the Xbox as Mantle would do for the PlayStation. Software on those platforms is already developed in environments that are 'close to the metal.'


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