Just as the headlines about Apple’s battery scandal were fading came another story, about a long-time CPU bug, recently discovered, which affected most computing devices. No doubt chastened by its failure to properly explain why it was throttling performance on iPhones with deteriorated batteries, Apple attempted to be direct and forthright from the get go.
So far, at least, recent updates to iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra have patches that “mitigate” the impact of the Meltdown bug; it’s not clear about earlier OS versions. This is one of two issues that were recently discovered in chips from Intel, ARM and other companies but not, apparently, from AMD. Even though it was claimed that the bug was never actually exploited, it had to be fixed, and Apple claimed that it wouldn’t impact performance of its products under normal use.
That claim came after Intel asserted that it could mean a 5-30% performance reduction on some tasks.
Obviously, these CPUs are also used in Windows PCs, Android smartphones, and other devices. So most of the affected products are not made by Apple. Just the other day, our web server, which uses Intel Xeon chips, received updated files bearing the names “CPU” or “Intel” on them, and it may well be that it’s all about controlling Meltdown.
But if you read the headlines, you might go away with the erroneous impression that it was just about Apple, which is definitely not true. In recent days, Microsoft released an emergency update for Windows that addressed Meltdown, which comes as no surprise. But Apple took the blame for being direct and forthright about what was going on, which left the Microsoft fix largely under the radar as far as mainstream coverage was concerned.
The other bug, Spectre, impacts browsers, and the coverage was mostly focused on Safari and the alleged dangers of using those apps on iPhones, iPads and Macs. Even fixes for other browsers were often covered in relation to how they’d affect Apple’s products and nobody else’s. Maybe not fake news, but certainly misleading news.
In the meantime, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured podcaster and commentator Kirk McElhearn. The main focus was the revelation that CPU chips from Intel, ARM and other manufacturers have serious security flaws that may have existed as far back as 1997. The session also covered Apple’s Throttlegate scandal, and what the company should have done to better inform customers of how it was reducing performance on iPhones with deteriorating batteries. Gene and Kirk also talked about remastered and remixed classic recordings such as the Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Kirk believes that the best version is the original mono recording from 1967.
In a special encore presentation, you also heard from tech journalist Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. As the segment began, Jeff complained that his copy of Skype 7 for the Mac was upgraded to Skype 8 without his approval, and he doesn’t like the all-new interface. In an extended discussion of net neutrality, Gene pointed out that more and more cable companies are embedding Netflix into their set-top boxes, perhaps as a move to help reduce cord cutting. As the pair moved into pop culture mode, Gene mentioned the latest reported move by Apple to add original TV content, with a direct-to-series order for a new sci-fi series from producer Ronald D. Moore, whose previous shows include Battlestar Galactica. Jeff explained in great detail why the fabled Star Wars lightsaber would be impossible to use in a real world setting. Gene suggested that the DC Comics super heroes on TV are better than their movie counterparts. And what about having different actors portray such legendary characters as the Flash and Superman?
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present one of our favorite guests, Col. John Alexander. For this episode, he’ll deliver a reality check on that worldwide story about the Pentagon UFO project, and whether it takes us closer to learning something definitive about the phenomenon. As a cutting-edge theorist on UFOs and paranormal phenomena in general, his views stretch the boundaries of research. Alexander’s recent book is Reality Denied: Firsthand Experiences with Things that Can’t Happen — But Did. Alexander confronts conventional wisdom with events that, although quite real, seem to challenge the revered “laws of science,” proving them to be wrong or incomplete. He is a retired Army Colonel Green Beret with decades of experience with a wide range of phenomena. He has encountered events that defy common explanation and has met with shamans in the Amazon, the Himalayas, the Andes, East and West Africa, and Northern Mongolia.
This past holiday season, 4K TVs hit critical mass. Only the very cheapest models were strictly HD. Starting not too far north of $300, you can buy a genuine Ultra HD set with a decent-sized screen. It’s not that these sets are necessarily junk either. Many come from big-name manufacturers, such as LG, Samsung, Sony and VIZIO. While the latter specializes in mostly lower cost sets, they are often rated higher than more expensive gear, a good market to be in for people looking for the best value.
What this means is that, if you’re ready to trade up from HD, you’ll find plenty of affordable gear. Indeed, when you examine all these sets in stores, it is very difficult to choose one from the other based on picture quality alone. Many of these are cookie-cutter products with fine differences that will never be noticed under the bright lights of a retail outlet. It’s only when they are set up in your home, and actually run side by side, would most of the differences be revealed.
Probably the most immediate distinction, though, is in the viewing angle. As you check the picture from the sides and above and below, you’ll see the picture dimming. But you see the same phenomenon on your iPhone or any device with an LED-based display. It’s the limit of this technology, though some sets manage it better than others. That’s where advantages will be fairly obvious.
Another category where one set differs from another is in upscaling quality, where HD content is interpolated in 4K. Here pictures will seem sharper, as they do on the VIZIO M-Series TV display I’m reviewing. But you might see minor glitches, such as jagged corners, which are largely invisible when the set is viewed from several feet away.
But the main limitation of 4K is that you need a fairly large screen to actually see the resolution difference, or watch fairly close. This is the theory behind the retina display, in which, at a normal viewing distance, you cannot see the pixels that make up the picture.
For a TV, a decent sweet spot is 55 inches, although your budget might be limited to something a little smaller. What this means is that you may not see any difference in the picture unless HDR comes into play. With compatible content, 4K and HDR, which is offered on some fare from such streaming services as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, you’ll see deeper, richer colors, more realistic. Even if you can’t detect the sharper picture, it’s an important difference.
At this point, unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of genuine 4K stuff to be found. Apple is quickly updating its movies, and you can reportedly get free updates to the ones you bought from iTunes. But, for now, it’s limited to streaming and not downloading. There’s also an Ultra HD Blue-ray format, which requires a new, more expensive player and the appropriate discs that can cost $5.00 or more extra.
The satellite companies are slowly adding 4K, but it takes up more bandwidth than regular channels, so it may take a while to expand capacity. I’m not aware of any cable companies considering 4K. When I asked a couple of folks at Cox, they pretended ignorance of what I was talking about.
A new broadcast TV format, ATSC 3.0, was approved by the FCC last November, which paves the way for initial testing of 4K broadcasting in some cities, including Phoenix. You’ll need a new tuner. This may well explain why some models, such as the latest gear from VIZIO, don’t have tuners. Why put in something that’ll soon be obsolete?
But even when everyone is on 4K, the TV makers are already considering the next format, 8K. Right now, some blockbuster movies are being shot in 8K. The newest version of Apple’s Final Cut Pro X video editing app supports 8K timelines, though they are viewed at reduced resolution on your Mac’s display.
Yes, 8K means twice as many pixels, though again it’s hard to say you’ll be able to see much difference except on really large TVs. That said, prototypes have already been presented at trade shows. LG will be displaying an 8K OLED TV with an 88-inch screen at the upcoming CES. You can bet it’ll be priced in the high five figures, similar to that of a luxury automobile.
Typical of new tech innovations, 8K will gradually filter down to more affordable gear just as more and more 4K content begins to appear. Again, I fail to see how 8K will offer any advantage to regular people with normal sized TVs, but with TV makers racing to the bottom with more and more affordable products, it’ll provide a way to test new technologies and earn decent profits.
Until 16K arrives? Or maybe the industry will look to adding other features, such as building a real 3D OLED set that performs its magic without the need of special glasses. Or maybe not. The last effort to create a market for 3D failed miserably, and very few recent sets offer the feature. But if the 3D capability is totally transparent, not needing anything special or extra, maybe. That would probably mean being able to dynamically convert regular 2D fare to 3D with a realistic effect.
Or maybe just project the signal direct to your brain so you can immerse yourself in your favorite TV show or movie. No, I’m not really looking forward to that one.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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