With users now able to get their hands on Microsoft’s latest document format – rolled out under the umbrella of the Fluid Framework – the company is hoping it can deliver on its promises of better productivity and collaboration online.
The Fluid Framework was announced at Microsoft’s Build developer conference in 2019, and at Build 2020 – a virtual-only event this year – the company made the format available for user preview for Microsoft 365 Enterprise and education subscribers enrolled in Targeted Release. It’s also available as open source software; Microsoft said the code and SDK will be available on GitHub soon.
The goal behind Fluid is an ambitious one: users can create discreet pieces of content – such as text, tables, graphs or lists – that live on the web instead of the desktop or a SharePoint drive and are blower agnostic. These artifacts can then be collaborated on or snapped together with other elements in near-to-real-time across a variety of environments.
Nick McQuire, vice president for enterprise research at CCS Insight, believes Microsoft is on its way to making Office “a development environment,” where organizations can start to “embed [Fluid] in business processes and deeper collaboration environments across your company.
“Microsoft does feel a bit of pressure to break down the silos within various, different applications out there, as well,” he said. “Whether it is Google or other flavors of collaboration software, there are others that are pushing the boundaries of what it is to collaborate.”
How it works
The basic Fluid experience involves a clean user experience reminiscent of Google Docs or Dropbox Paper. It is essentially a blank slate, with the option to create a document or Fluid artifact that can then be shared with your network.
“Discovering the full potential of the Fluid Framework can only be accomplished through creating a diverse, open, and vibrant developer community,” Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, said in an announcement this week.
Where Fluid differs from the likes of Google Docs is how it enables people to work together on an item – wherever it resides. Instead of opening a proposed agenda from an email and editing it in Word, a users can just edit it in place in the email, with all changes staying up to date. In practice, it looks like a typical Google Docs experience, with colleagues’ avatars appearing next to the line on which they’re working in real time.
If that sounds potentially chaotic, that’s because it is. Microsoft is looking to achieve true real-time collaboration, where changes are relayed immediately and multiple users can work on items simultaneously, even if they aren’t “in” the same document. That could lead to conflicts with co-workers, and concerns about version control.
Use cases will be fluid (sorry), but early examples include: tracking action items, building a crowd-sourced meeting agenda with minutes or sharing the results of a recent project with a team in a virtual meeting.
“It is becoming clear you cannot single handedly live in one application, so the ability for companies to make that workflow more adaptive and easier for people to do tasks across different applications, while retaining an experience that they prefer to work in, is becoming really important,” McQuire said.
Further in the future, Microsoft envisions a model where software bots – like its Cortana virtual assistant – can work alongside users to translate text, suggest edits and perform checks directly within Fluid components.
McQuire believes the success of Fluid depends on the developer community. “They have to be the starting point to take Fluid in a direction that will bring some innovation into Office and 365 overall,” he said.
It’s tough to talk about Project Treble without getting lost in a forest of technical gobbledygook.
And it’s no wonder: Project Treble (take a deep breath) is Google’s ambitious effort to rearchitect Android in order to establish a modular base in which the lower-level code created by silicon vendors is separated from the main Android operating system framework so that device manufacturers can update the OS code without having to rely on silicon vendors to refresh the lower-level code for every release.
Whew! See what I mean?
In reality, though, Project Treble doesn’t have to be so complicated. Let’s break down what Treble is actually all about, in real-world terms — and what it actually means for you, as someone who uses Android and doesn’t necessarily speak the language of mumbo-jumbo.
We’ll start at the beginning:
What is Project Treble — in plain English?
I just fed the technical explanation into my patented Geek-to-English Translation Machine, and here’s what came out: Project Treble, at its core, is all about making it faster, easier, and cheaper for phone makers to process Android software updates and get them out to users.
That’s the short version. Now, the context: In the past, every time a new Android version came along, phone makers had to wait for the chipset vendors — the companies like Qualcomm, which supply the processors and other pieces inside the devices — to update the areas of the code related to all of that internal hardware. It was only when that effort was finished that the phone-maker was able to start its part of the process: integrating the new Google-provided software with its own interface customizations and feature additions, then testing it all thoroughly and getting it ready to roll out.
What Treble does is separate that lower-level stuff — the areas of the code related to a phone’s processor, modem, and so on — from the rest of the operating system. That way, those lower-level elements don’t have to be updated every time a new Android version comes along; they just exist as a constant foundation beneath everything else, and that first part of the process is no longer required.
To borrow an analogy from an earlier analysis, you can think of the whole thing like a pie: Up till recently, all of Android was mixed together, and that meant each ingredient had to be updated and stirred into the batter from scratch with every single OS update. Thanks to Treble, all the hardware-specific elements now exist as a crust — one that remains in place for a device’s entire life. And so whenever a new Android release arrives, the phone maker can focus solely on its part of the process — the filling — without first having to wait for someone else to provide a freshly made foundation.
Google actually started this process with its Android 8.0 Oreo release, in 2017, by creating the initial boundary between the operating system and the lower-level code. Rather fittingly, however, 2018’s Android 9 Pie software marked the first time the setup was complete and operational — with chipset vendors ready to support it and with a significant number of Treble-ready devices out in the wild and waiting.
Why is Project Treble even necessary?
Over the past several years, Android upgrades have devolved into a big, hot mess — and that’s putting it mildly: Aside from Google itself, with its Pixel line of phones, no Android device maker provides consistently timely and reliable software updates. And it’s the users who suffer, getting stuck with dated software that lacks not only features and interface improvements from newer releases but also privacy and security enhancements and a variety of other under-the-hood improvements that only OS updates can provide.
And that’s why Project Treble came about — to try to cut out some of the time and cost associated with processing OS updates so that manufacturers would step up their games and users could start getting current software more quickly.
How much difference is Project Treble actually making?
That’s the million-dollar question — and with two years of Treble-aided updates now in front of us, the answer isn’t especially uplifting.
According to my interview with one of Google’s Treble architects, Treble should shave about three months off the typical upgrade process by eliminating that initial lower-level phase. But scrutinizing the data from device-makers’ performance with both the Pie upgrade and the more recent Android 10 rollout, it’s clear that hasn’t exactly happened.
Let’s start with Pie: As my February 2019 analysis of that rollout makes all too apparent, nearly every major Android flagship device-maker (from a U.S. perspective) saw little to no improvement with the first true Treble test. Some companies even did meaningfully worse with the initial post-Treble rollout than they did with earlier, non-Treble-affected Android releases.
Samsung, notably, did a touch better with Pie than it did with Oreo, the year before — but it’s hard to frame its success as a Treble-related victory. The company went from 213 days between the software’s release and its first U.S. flagship phone rollout with Oreo to 177 days with Pie. That’s an improvement of 36 days, which is certainly something — but it isn’t nearly enough to account for the estimated 90 days of work Treble was supposed to save.
Plus, looking back even further, Samsung took 179 days to deliver Nougat to its then-current flagship the previous cycle — basically the same amount of time it took with Pie. Before that, the company took 155 days with Marshmallow and 105 days with Lollipop. So all that really happened was that Samsung had an especially bad year with Oreo and then went back to its still-underwhelming Nougat-level performance a year later — without even going as far as to match its slightly less embarrassing Marshmallow- or Lollipop-era performances from the years before that.
One company actually did achieve the 90-day improvement window Treble was designed to provide: OnePlus, the relatively small-scale maker of phones that have long been popular within the Android enthusiast community and have just recently started to see some more mainstream success. That’s a promising indication of the type of improvement Treble can theoretically enable — but the success is somewhat diminished by the fact that OnePlus simultaneously took 47 days longer to get Pie out to its previous-gen flagships than it did with Oreo the previous year (and in the case of OnePlus, those phones were indeed all Treble-ready).
So that’s year one of living in a Treble-enhanced world, in a nutshell. In year two, with 2019’s Android 10 update, some device-makers managed to improve their delivery times a bit further — but the results are rather scattered and still don’t seem to point specifically to any Treble-connected success.
Samsung, for instance, got about a hundred days faster with both its current-gen and previous-gen flagship rollouts in the Android 10 cycle — certainly nothing to write off. But at the same time, that level of improvement actually just brought the company back (almost) to its 2014 performance, with Lollipop. So can we really credit a return to a six-year-old standard — one that wasn’t even particularly impressive back then — to a change that came about in the last couple of years? It seems like a stretch.
LG also almost matched its 2014 level of mediocrity with the Android 10 rollout, on the current-gen flagship front, and is doing significantly worse than it did in 2014 with its previous-gen flagship phone support. (As of this writing, the company has yet to send Android 10 to its previous-gen flagship in the U.S. and is already two months and counting behind its 2014 standard.) HTC and Motorola, meanwhile, have yet to send Android 10 to any U.S. flagships, well over six months after the software’s release.
Again, the one exception to the rule is OnePlus, which brought its current-gen flagship delivery down to a mere 18 days with Android 10 — compared to 47 days with Android 9 and 138 days with Android 8. OnePlus did better with its previous-gen flagship, too, with a 93-day delay for Android 10 delivery. That’s still too long of a wait to be commendable, though, and it’s also essentially just bouncing back from a bad year to match the company’s previous-gen upgrade performance in 2017.
All these numbers are a lot to process, but the main takeaway is that it’s tough to square the data — even in areas where improvements are present — with any sort of narrative about Treble being the driver of the change.
More than anything, what we’re seeing serves to highlight a stark reality of the Android upgrade situation: Regardless of what improvements are made to the technical part of the process, most manufacturers simply aren’t motivated to make timely and reliable upgrades a priority. And why should they? Post-sales software support requires a fair amount of time and resources, even with Treble’s adjustments in place, and all of that effort brings little tangible benefit to the typical third-party Android device maker.
In fact, one could argue that providing timely and reliable software enhancements actively works against most companies’ interests, as it makes phone owners less likely to feel the need to spend money on a new device. Treble, unfortunately, can’t address that part of the equation; if phone makers see no reason to take post-sales software support seriously, all the optimization in the world won’t make an ounce of difference.
All considered, what we can say is that Treble absolutely does cut out a significant portion of the work required for phone makers to process and deliver OS updates — and that can and should make it possible for upgrades to be delivered faster without any additional investments. How things play out from there, however, is ultimately in each manufacturer’s hands, as these first two years of evidence illustrate.
This article was originally published in September 2018 and most recently updated in April 2020.
More than a year after Microsoft waved the white flag, saying it would scrap Edge’s rendering engine and replace it with Blink, the engine that powers Google’s Chrome, the company has now delivered its reborn browser to the public.
But the result? That’s still up for grabs. Although there was little downside to the radical shift to Chromium – Internet Explorer had long been on legacy life support and Edge was at a near-death 4% user share – it’s vastly unclear whether the switch to Chromium will save Microsoft’s browser bacon.
(It may be just as unclear a year from now, for even though Edge now boasts a share of nearly 7%, much of that growth stemmed from Windows 10’s gains, not the browser’s. We’ll be keeping tabs on Edge’s share over the coming year.)
Microsoft is hoping to snap up some new users by getting those now running Chrome on Windows to reconsider. We’ll see how that works out. But now that Edge has gone live, it’s time to answer important questions about the world’s newest browser remodel.
Why did Microsoft replace its own technologies in Edge with Chromium?
Microsoft’s sticking to its original answer. “A little over a year ago, we announced our intention to rebuild Microsoft Edge on the Chromium open source project with the goals of delivering better compatibility for everyone, less fragmentation for web developers, and a partnership with the Chromium community to improve the Chromium engine itself,” Joe Belfiore, the top Windows executive, wrote in a Jan. 15 post to a company blog.
More than a year ago, when Belfiore announced the revamp, he cited the same three altruistic motivations.
Although there’s no evidence that Microsoft wasn’t sincere, Belfiore’s trio certainly weren’t the only reasons. It’s just as likely that Edge’s dismal adoption rate – used on just 10% of all Windows 10 PCs when he declared the decision, 12% in December 2019 – and Chrome’s overwhelming lead (67% of all personal computer-based browsing last month) were why Edge went Chromium. Other justifications may have included an expected decrease in Microsoft’s engineering head count, increased revenue from Bing if Edge’s share expands (Belfiore mentioned Bing on Wednesday) and a faster release cycle than the company could produce on its own.
Users of PCs powered by Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro that are not managed by an IT staff will be automatically upgraded to the new Edge via Windows Update. Such upgrades will not begin immediately – Microsoft said “in the coming weeks” – and will be distributed in stages, as is Microsoft’s habit, rather than all at once. (The practice lets Microsoft turn off the spigot if the upgrade goes sideways on, say, some systems, before afflicting the entire Windows 10 user base.)
It’s probable that others – workers whose PCs are handled by IT, for example – will be blocked from manually upgrading by group policies deployed to their machines.
What happens to the old Edge when the new ‘full-Chromium’ version is installed? What happens to Internet Explorer (IE)?
The old Edge is scrubbed from the PC. “When you install Microsoft Edge on an up-to-date Windows 10 device, it will replace the previous (legacy) version on your device,” wrote Kyle Pflug, a senior program manager on the Edge developer experience team, in a separate blog post.
Before the old Edge is deleted, its bookmarks, passwords and some settings are automatically migrated to the new Edge.
As for IE, it’s staying put.
Is Chromium Edge a straight-out clone of Chrome?
No. But put them side by side and it’s tough to tell them apart.
Although the look-and-feel, the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX), of Chrome and Edge may seem alike at first glance (or second or third for that matter), Microsoft has already staked out differences under the hood. Edge, for instance, already sports some anti-tracking defenses; only recently did Google say it is on a two-year plan to equip Chrome with something similar.
What about Windows 7? Does Chromium-Edge run on that? Or Mac? How about macOS?
Yes, Edge now runs on Windows 7. And macOS. Also, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, for the three or four of you out there still on that debacle of an OS.
Because there was no earlier Edge on those platforms, there’s nothing to remove when the new one lands. Microsoft has said nothing about automatically adding Edge to Windows 8/8.1, the only operating systems which connect to Windows Update. (Windows 7 exited support Tuesday, Jan. 14.) Anyone who wants Edge on a personal computer running anything, but Windows 10 will thus need to grab the browser themselves.
Can Edge run add-ons available for Chrome?
Edge has its own add-on market, reached by selecting Extensions from the menu at the right of the address bar (the three horizontal dots), but it can also install those at the Chrome Web Store. There, the process is identical to that with Chrome itself, although users will have to one-time-approve that Edge may install extensions from other – read non-Microsoft – outlets.
Isn’t Windows 7 retired? Will Microsoft really support Edge on that out-to-pasture OS?
Yes, but for how long we don’t know. “We’re going to continue to support Windows 7 users with the new Microsoft Edge,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email reply to when the company would half that support.
Another possible termination date would be Jan. 10, 2023, the end of Microsoft’s Extended Security Updates (ESU) support for Windows 7. Since businesses pay for ESU, Microsoft will patch Edge on the machines covered by the deal. And since it has to craft the fixes for ESU customers in any case, it could just as well share them with everyone running the browser on Windows 7.
How often will Microsoft upgrade full-Chromium Edge?
About eight times a year. Or once every six to eight weeks, depending on, not Microsoft, but Chromium.
Edge, like Chrome, will refresh on or near Chromium’s schedule. Developers working the Chromium project branch the code – lock down the changes by saving the build as a separate instance for the testing, bug fixing and polishing that leads to a stable release – on this schedule for the first half of 2020. In turn, that leads to Chrome releases on dates up to 10 weeks later.
Chromium 81 Branch: Jan. 30 Release, Chrome 81: March 17
Chromium 82 Branch: March 12 Release, Chrome 82: April 28
Chromium 83 Branch: April 23 Release, Chrome 83: June 9
Microsoft hasn’t committed to copying Chrome’s release calendar – Edge 79, which debuted this week, arrived five weeks after Chrome 79, for example – but it most likely will come close. Computerworld expects Edge to quickly narrow the gap and before the year’s half over, deliver Edge on the same day as Chrome.
How will Chromium Edge be updated?
Through the usual Windows channels, which for consumers and small businesses means Windows Update. Larger organizations will be offered Edge updates via Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and can also dole them out using Configuration Manager or Intune. (On macOS, IT must create plist files, which can be distributed through Intune or Jamf, the latter the de facto management platform for Macs in business or education.)
Because Microsoft has not yet clarified Edge’s release schedule – most importantly, whether it will mimic Chrome’s calendar – it’s unclear whether Microsoft will hold Edge updates until the next available Patch Tuesday or simply issue them on its own timetable.
Relying on Patch Tuesday would insert yet another update into Microsoft’s crowded schedule; Windows 10 has as many as four each month already. On the other hand, loosing updates on just any day runs counter to customer expectations that refreshes come at designated moments during the month.
Can we pilot Edge using a preview – like the Beta or Dev builds – on systems which have the stable Edge already on them?
Like Chrome, Edge comes in four builds, in increasing order of stability and polish: Canary, Dev, Beta and Stable. One or more of the first three can be installed on personal computers already hosting Stable.
Microsoft even cast the multiple builds as a way around problems users encounter. “You can mitigate the risk of testing for users who have opted to install a pre-release channel,” a support document stated. “For example, if you have a user who’s using the Beta Channel, and there’s a problem, they can switch to the Stable Channel and continue working.”
The Stable and Beta builds are refreshed approximately every six weeks (meaning that as Edge 79 went live in Stable, Beta was promoted to version 80); Dev and Canary are updated weekly and daily, respectively (both of them are on version 81).
One of the new chips in this year’s crop of iPhones is the U1; it provides Ultra Wideband (UWB) connectivity that, in conjunction with Internet of Things (IoT) technology, could offer a myriad of new services for enterprises and consumers.
As Apple puts it, UWB technology offers “spatial awareness” – the ability for your phone to recognize its surroundings and the objects in it. Essentially, one iPhone 11 user can point his or her phone at another and transfer a file or photo.
While the technology isn’t new, Apple’s implementation marks the first time UWB has been used in a modern smartphone.
What is Ultra Wideband?
UWB is a short-range, wireless communication protocol that – like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi – uses radio waves. But it differs substantially in that IT operates at a very high frequency. As its name denotes, it also uses a wide spectrum of several GHz. One way to think of it is as a radar that can continuously scan an entire room and precisely lock onto an object like a laser beam to discover its location and communicate data.
In the early 2000s, UWB saw limited use in military radars and covert communications and was used briefly as a form of medical imaging, such as remote heart monitoring systems; Its adoption lagged until recently when commercial interests began exploring potential uses.
Today, its primary purpose is expected to be location discovery and device ranging, according to Phil Solis, an IDC research director. While both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have been modified to allow greater accuracy in locating other devices and connecting to them, UWB is natively more precise, uses less power and, as production of UWB chips ramps up over time, holds the promise of a lower price point.
Samsung, Apple and Huawei, the world’s largest smartphone makers, are all involved in UWB projects including chip and antenna production, according to Solis. Apple, however, is the first to actually deploy it in a phone.
Samsung, along with Xiaomi, NXP, Sony, Bosch and others, are also a part of the FiRa (fine ranging) Consortium, which is working to grow the UWB ecosystem. That ecosystem is built atop the existing IEE 802.15.4/4x standard for low-data-rate wireless communication.
How does UWB work?
A UWB transmitter works by sending billions of pulses (UWB was previously known as “pulse radio”) across the wide spectrum frequency; a corresponding receiver then translates the pulses into data by listening for a familiar pulse sequence sent by the transmitter. Pulses are sent about one every two nanoseconds, which helps UWB achieve its real-time accuracy.
UWB is extremely low power but the high bandwidth (500MHz) is ideal for relaying a lot data from a host device to other devices up to about 30 feet away. Unlike Wi-Fi, however, it is not particularly good at transmitting through walls.
“Because it’s such high frequency, it’s very much line of sight,” said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates. “So, the advantage is because it has such wide bandwidth, it has a lot of data capability. If you’re transmitting a 60GHz signal that’s 500MHz wide… and multiply that by however many channels you can do, you’re talking very wide band.”
To increase UWB’s range and reception reliability, a MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output), distributed antenna system has been added to the standard that enables short-range networks. The antennas can be embedded into a smartphone or other devices such as a wristband or smart key.
When a smartphone with UWB (like the latest iPhone) comes close to another UWB device, the two start ranging, or measuring, their exact distance. The ranging is accomplished through “Time of Flight” (ToF) measurements between the devices; these are used to calculate the roundtrip time of challenge/response packets.
Based on the IEEE 802.15.4a standard, UWB can determine the relative position of peer devices with line of sight at up to 200 meters, according to the FiRa Consortium. The Consortium is currently adding a security extension – specified in IEEE 802.15.4z – to make it a “secure fine-ranging technology.”
>>>>>>>Depending on the type of use, such as asset tracking or device localization, one of the UWB devices calculates the precise location of another UWB-enabled object – such as those car keys or television remote control that fell between the couch cushions. (If the device is running an indoor navigation service, the UWB-enabled device must know its relative location to the fixed UWB “anchors” and calculate its position on an area map.)<<<<<<<
With precise ranging, UWB has an advantage in both precision and security over Bluetooth and WiFi, according to Solis, and that advantage can be used for many different applications. For example, a UWB-enabled device can be used to unlock a car like a key FOB or enable entrance to a secure area within a building. Or, a UWB-enabled smart phone or watch could enable access to a band account via an ATM.
“It would essentially be another security check,” Solis said. “Or, your phone becomes your debit card. And maybe Apple has in mind NFC being used for [Apple] Pay and UWB becomes another check for that.”
UWB could also be another way to thwart relay, or man-in-the-middle attacks, where bad actors monitor an area like a parking lot in an attempt to intercept and then store authentication messages between two devices, such as a key FOB and a car. The UWB device’s signal would ignore all other devices in an area.
What are possible uses for UWB?
Apple patented the use of UWB with beacons (called iBeacon), small battery powered sensors that can be attached to objects and broadcast a signal that an enabled UWB device can then use to estimate distance between two objects down to a few centimeters for location services. So, for example, an airport or mall equipped with a network of beacons could monitor a pedestrian’s progress through the building and offer directions to a destination in real time.
Apple only mentioned UWB in passing in concert with its iPhone 11 and iOS 13.1 September announcements, stating that AirDrop would get better with “directionally aware suggestions.” Basically, UWB enables device users to know who’s around them and target them to transfer a document through AirDrop.
“That’s exactly what they’re trying to do,” said Gold. “They’re saying, your friend is three degrees to your left, and this woman Joan is right behind you. Don’t send any stuff to Joan, just send it to your friend.”
In that regard, Gold said, UWB can be a much more secure method for transmitting data between phones over a short distance because it knows exactly where the other UWB-enabled device is.
What will UWB do in the iPhone 11?
Apple developed its U1 chip to eable all three models of the iPhone 11 to transmit data using the AirDrop file transfer service at a distance similar to Bluetooth.
While AirDrop can operate using Bluetooth and WiFi, the Apple-developed U1 chip enables specificity. In other words, instead of a list of possible recipients of a file, an iPhone 11 user can point their phone at another iPhone 11 and only it will appear for file transmission.
In the future, expect to see Apple enable the iPhone as a type of vehcle key FOB.
The FiRa Consortium believes the UWB will transform connectivity experiences across IoT and the automotive industries, according to Debra Spitler, vice president of business development.
FiRa’s initial focus is on three primary categories of use cases: (1) hands-free access control; (2) location-based services; and (3) device-to-device (peer-to-peer) applications. Those categories of use cases then cross 6 use case segments that include smart home and enterprises, smart cities and mobility, smart transportation, consumer use, smart retail, and industry 4.0 and healthcare.
“UWB was originally introduced as a high data rate communication technology for multi-media data. To establish UWB as a new “ranging technology” will require the creation of a whole new ecosystem,” FiRa stated via email.
Where does UWB go from here?
FiRa Consortium members are convinced that the success of UWB secure fine ranging depends on an interoperable, holistic, and inter-connected ecosystem. That will require:
Interoperability between several devices, and necessitates compliance and certification programs.
Close collaboration with other industry organizations such as IEEE, Wi-Fi Alliance, Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), and others. The FiRa Consortium will focus on UWB use cases utilizing the available 6-9 GHz spectrum.
That we attract member companies who bring extensive ecosystem know-how, leadership positions in targeted market verticals, and broad technical and system expertise, as well as a strong presence and experience in other consortia relevant to UWB.
The introduction of a new name, FiRa to help overcome UWB’s stereotype as an “old communication technology” and instead emphasize UWB’s transformation as a secure fine ranging and sensing technology.
Strong market outreach and education on the benefits of using UWB technology.
“We’ll have to see how well it actually works out, and how many people want it and how many services they can actually tie to it,” Gold said. “And, do you really want a mini-radar on your phone? I think that’s what could hold it back.”
If you’re new to PC gaming, you might not have ever explored video game graphics settings. Most people know that higher settings are better, but what do all those game settings actually do?
We’re here to explain the most common video game graphics settings. We’ll see how they work and how they affect your system and games.
1. Display Resolution
Resolution is the amount of pixels present on your screen, which dictates the overall quality of the image. You’ll see this expressed as two numbers, such as 1920×1080 (1080p) or 2560×1440 (1440p). The first number indicates the width of the screen in pixels, while the second is its height in pixels.
All monitors come with default resolution settings, which you can change. If you have a 1080p monitor, you can display in resolutions lower than 1920×1080, but not higher.
Independent of this, you can change a game’s display resolution. Setting a game to display higher than your monitor can handle is pointless, as you’ll lose the extra detail.
Higher resolutions bring a noticeable bump in image quality because there is more graphical information per frame. Of course, increasing the resolution will put more stress on your GPU. Increasing resolution is one of the simplest and largest quality upgrades you can make, so make sure you have a GPU that can handle high resolutions before cranking it up.
Below are two images, zoomed in 200x. One image was taken at 1440×900 resolution (roughly 720p); the other was taken at 1920×1200 (roughly 1080p). Note the added detail to the hair and lines around the eyes.
Some games and software tricks use special methods to render output at a higher resolution than is normally possible. For example, the image below shows the Nintendo DS game, Animal Crossing: Wild World.
The left side below displays the regular 256×192 resolution, while the right has the same game using 1024×768 resolution downsampled to the original 256×192 screen. You could achieve this effect using an emulator.
Most standard monitors have a refresh rate of 60Hz, which means that they can draw a new image on the screen 60 times per second. Your graphics card (and game) may be capable of sending a higher FPS than your monitor can display. However, your monitor’s refresh rate effectively acts as a cap on your game FPS, as a 60Hz monitor can’t display 144 frames per second.
Texture quality is just what it sounds like: how good elements of the in-game environment look. Textures are skins that sit on top of the basic blocks of the three-dimensional environment.
Increasing the texture quality will enhance the quality of the game’s graphics. Doing this is often rather intensive, as a texture quality change will usually adjust all the textures in-game. The results are sharper and less blurry images at the cost of a heavier load on your video card.
For example, a photograph on the wall might look blurry and indistinguishable on Low texture settings, but have enough detail to study clearly on High. See the below comparison of a shot in BioShock Infinite for an example:
All quality settings work in a similar fashion, so we won’t go over them individually. This includes shader quality, which adjusts how clear light and dark balance in the game.
The particular enhancements made through quality bumps are difficult to pinpoint, since they vary from game to game. You can typically adjust a single slider on levels like Low, Medium, and Ultra, or dive into advanced settings and tweak everything individually if you prefer.
For general use, medium settings are often a good idea, as they balance an immersive landscape with playable performance.
Before explaining anti-aliasing (AA), it’s helpful to understand what aliasing is in the first place. Aliasing occurs when low-resolution images produce pixelated (rather than smooth) lines and curves. This is a result of using square pixels to represent rounded real-life objects.
Anti-aliasing injects blocks of the same or similar color around the lines of an image, creating a smoother effect. This reduces the blocky look around the edges of items in your game. There are different kinds of anti-aliasing techniques; your GPU’s drivers decide which to use. However, you can often change the quality of anti-aliasing you want in your game options.
Depending on the AA methods used, it may tax the GPU a small or large amount. Try turning up the AA effect if you notice jagged edges all over the place, especially on elements like foliage and grass.
Anti-aliasing is more effective at lower resolutions. At higher resolutions, like 4K, the pixels are so small that any aliasing effect is negligible.
) occurs when your GPU outputs more frames per second than your monitor can handle. Thus, the card sends a new frame before your monitor has finished showing you the previous one.
You can see an example of screen tearing below. Notice how the image is split into three pieces that don’t line up. Although screen-tearing isn’t always obvious while playing a game, you’ll likely notice it if you watch slowed-down playback of recorded games.
Enabling VSync removes virtually all screen-tearing from your gameplay. However, it has two downsides. The first is that it can introduce input lag, which is when your button inputs don’t immediately take effect in the game.
The other problem is that if the game’s FPS falls below your monitor’s refresh rate, it locks the frame rate to a lower synchronized value, like 30FPS. This can lead to games stuttering unnecessarily—jumping between 30 and 60FPS is much more jarring than just staying at 59FPS.
To deal with this issue, GPU manufacturers have created separate modules for monitors which sync refresh rates dynamically with frame rates. These alternative syncing options, such as Nvidia’s G-Sync and AMD’s FreeSync remove any stuttering associated with VSync.
However, these alternative syncing methods do require a compatible monitor and GPU, which limits the exposure of this innovative technology. In most cases, unless screen tearing really bothers you, you’re better off disabling VSync and enjoying higher frame rates.
In-game textures are comprised of quads—polygonal shapes made of triangles—which form over the shape of objects. Tessellation allows graphics cards to repeat quads multiple times over any given surface. The repeated patterning allows for texture displacement, which creates bumps in landscapes.
You’ll notice this most clearly when looking at surfaces like brick walls. With high tessellation, these will have realistic bumps and curvatures. Without it, they’ll look smooth and less believable.
In most games, tessellation is not that taxing on your GPU. It’s worth a try to enable it and see if it improves your game without impacting performance, but it’s not the most vital graphical game setting.
7. Ambient Occlusion
Ambient Occlusion creates realistic shadow transitions between different physical objects. Ambient occlusion in-game, while noticeable, will not dictate the shadow quality. This is why ambient occlusion is usually a separate option from shadow quality.
Instead, ambient occlusion will lighten or darken shadows in relation to other objects. In the example below, ambient occlusion darkens the shadow underneath the table to create a more realistic lighting effect in the room.
In a lot of cases, you probably won’t notice the effect too much. It makes light more realistic, but won’t blow you away with additional detail.
8. Anisotropic Filtering
Filtering allows games to smoothly transition between high-quality textures near the player, and low-quality textures farther away, where you can’t see them as clearly. A sudden change from clear to blurry looks terrible, so filtering is important.
Anisotropic filtering reduces the amount of texture blurring at far distances. These anisotropic filtering effects are best seen at oblique angles (angles that indicate far distances) rather than directly in front of your character.
Before anisotropic filtering, bi or tri-linear filtering was common. This type of filtering slowly degrades texture quality over distances. Anisotropic filtering, on the other hand, replicates similar texture quality at close and far distances alike.
You can see a sample below. Using it is not too demanding on your hardware, and many games nowadays even enable it by default so you don’t have to adjust it.
It may appear as though anisotropic filtering lowers shading effects at far-off distances. That is due to reduced blurring, which reduces the dark spots created with smoke and texture effects.
9. High Dynamic Range (HDR)
While it isn’t typically a setting you can change, HDR is an important graphical term you should know. Essentially, HDR improves the contrast between light and dark portions of your display. This makes the dark parts look darker, and the bright parts look brighter.
You’ll need an HDR-capable display to take advantage of it, so you might want to shop for an HDR monitor when it’s time to replace yours.
Bloom is an effect that attempts to make light in games “feel” brighter. Of course, your display can only get so bright, so bloom uses other visual methods to increase the effect. You’ll notice bloom when you see light spilling over the edges of objects, like characters and walls.
It’s supposed to replicate the feel of extremely bright light overwhelming your eye or a camera. Used in moderation it can be effective, but some games go overboard with it.
11. Motion Blur
This is a straightforward graphical effect. Motion blur introduces fuzziness to the image when rotating the in-game camera. Like bloom, it’s typically used for cinematic effect, as it mimics similar properties seen in movies.
Many people prefer to turn motion blur off, as it reduces the quality and adds to natural blurriness.
12. Field of View
Field of view, often abbreviated to FOV, defines how wide of an angle your character sees in a first-person game. Increasing this lets you see more of the world at once (essentially enhancing your peripheral vision), but can make aiming more difficult as it squishes more information into the same screen size.
Generally, you should increase the FOV to a level where you can see as much as possible, without it affecting the rest of your gameplay.
Using AMD Radeon Settings and Nvidia Settings
We’ve generally looked at settings you can adjust in individual games. However, you can also change many of these in your graphic card settings menu. Open the Nvidia or AMD app on your computer, and you can adjust some of them on a global level.
Whether you change them in-game or through your video card app, all of these (and more) graphical settings can be difficult to manage. If you don’t want to play around with them on your own, both Nvidia and AMD provide tools to optimize games for your available hardware.
Inside AMD’s Radeon software, you’ll find three AMD Radeon Advisor tools. You can run Game Advisor inside any game to get suggestions for better performance. Settings Advisor scans your system and provides recommendations based on your setup. Finally, the Upgrade Advisor will help you determine if you can play a particular game.
If you have an Nvidia GPU, Nvidia GeForce Experience provides similar functionality. You can use it to automatically apply the best balance of quality and performance for many games.
How to Get the Right Gaming PC Setup for You
Now you have a basic grasp on what PC graphics options mean and how they affect your game. In general, the more powerful hardware you have, the further you can afford to crank up these settings for a prettier game.
If you’re lost, try using the assist tools we mentioned above. Otherwise, a little experimentation can help you strike the best balance between performance and visuals. You definitely want your game to look pretty, but you shouldn’t sacrifice a smooth experience for looks. This is especially important in fast-paced multiplayer games.