pRoDuct oR SerVice – sell it on “AmaZon marketpLace”

amazon

Amazon, the E-commerce giant, is one of the oldest merchants on the web and has over 200 million customers worldwide. Amazon is the unrivalled marketplace to sell products online. It provides an excellent platform for conducting online business and has proved beneficial for both buyers and sellers. Amazon is an extremely popular e-commerce site that can help expand your reach in the market and improve the visibility of your product in a unique way.

There are various reasons why you should consider selling at Amazon Marketplace

  • Increase Sales: The best reason of selling on Amazon is the scale of their online visitors.
  • Acquire Potential Customers from across the Globe: Amazon has millions of varied customers across the globe who visit on a frequent basis.
  • Quick and Stress Free Shipping: Amazon can ship your product, through Amazon’s FBA service, Fulfillment by Amazon, to the customer faster and at cheaper rates than you can do it yourself.
  • Effortless, Trusted Shopping Experience for Customers
  • Secure and Timely Payments: Amazon offers hassle-free and timely payments. Payment for your product is deposited into your bank account and you are notified via email that your payment has been made. Also, Amazon deducts its fees only after you make a sale.

Amazon Marketplace – Account Types

Before start selling products you should first choose the type of account, then decide what product to sell and finally decide how to manage shipment and returns.

Amazon offers two types of Account

1) Individual Account
2) Professional Account

Differences between Individual and Professional selling plans

Individual sellers are on a pay-as-you-go system and use a basic set of tools for listing and order management. While Professional sellers pay a monthly subscription fee of $39.99, they also receive a waiver of the $0.99 fixed closing fee for each order and can access additional tools for listing inventory and managing orders.

Amazon Marketplace – Listing a New Product

If you want to list a new product in the Amazon catalog, then you need to follow the steps given below:
1) Log-in to your account
2) Click on sell button
3) Select your account type
4) Fill the following form

It may take a few days for the product to begin appearing in the search list.

Listing Products in Masses
What if you want to sell thousands of products? Entering the details of each item would be very tedious. In such a case, uploading lists of products into Amazon Seller Central comes to your rescue. It does not mean that you do not need to input the product data. You obviously need to enter all the data, the product cost, its condition, quantity, etc. but you will be entering it into a spreadsheet and upload the spreadsheet on Amazon. The entire procedure of uploading is the same as discussed earlier.

Amazon Marketplace – Pricing Tools

Amazon has a repricing tool that could be quite useful. Merchants need to use such pricing tools because prices change very quickly with upcoming new merchants and new inventories. So, one needs to keep a check and keep the prices reasonable without making any changes manually. These tools use Amazon Web Service’s Application Programming Interface (API). They track information about your pricing and your opponent’s pricing and modify your pricing to appear more competitive, thereby escalating your sales and drawing you closer to the Buy Box.

Amazon has no objection to merchants using these tools. In fact, they understand that managing large number of products isn’t possible without automation and they like tools with a tendency to push the pricing down, because it provides lower prices to their customers.

Amazon Marketplace – Price Calculator

It is quite an effort to know how much revenue you can generate by selling a product on Amazon. Being one of the most popular marketplaces for online merchants, Amazon has a wide array of fees – marketplace account fees, variable cost fees, referral fees, shipping costs, etc. The fee depends upon whether you are an individual seller or a pro merchant, shipping your product yourself or using FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon).

One cannot estimate how much profit can be earned by selling a product. Here, the readymade Price Calculators come to the rescue and helps you calculate how much profit are you going to make on the sale. Amazon Price Calculators are well equipped to help the sellers in determining their total profit on items after shipment and all monetary transactions.

Want to Learn Digital Marketing?

KeeP YoUr SmartPhone SaFe

Smartphones have evolved from being able to just check email and has now allowed us to do so many other things when paired with other devices. Nowadays, we can pay with our smartphones with digital wallet apps are able to store multiple credit cards. Most of our private information (together with other contact information) can be found in the apps on our smartphone through chatlogs, pictures, calendars, and notes.

Various reports have shown that Android malware is increasing year after year, so it’s more important now than ever to make sure your device is safe.

Following are the ways through which you can keep your smartphone safe

Activate a screen lock

Activate a screen lock  after a short period of inactivity (30 seconds, for example), your phone should auto-lock itself. It’s a must not only for your mobile device, but also for your laptop or tablet. This is the easiest way to keep intruders away. It’s also essential that you enforce automatic wiping of the device after 10 failed login attempts.

A screen lock is useful but won’t stop someone from removing your SIM card and using it on another phone. To prevent this from happening, set up a SIM card lock in the form of a PIN number that will need to be entered when a phone is turned on in order to connect to a network.
With both of these security measures in place, you can at least be safe in the knowledge that if a phone is stolen it will be of very little use to the average thief.

Secure individual apps

Download App Lock and add an extra level of security to individual apps, especially ones that contain personal data, such as social networks, email apps, or banking apps. You can set a different password for each app.

Automatic Back up your data

Backing up your data simply means keeping a duplicate data of all the data in your smartphone. There are many viruses in the internet nowadays that can just blast off your smarty pants to heaven. So if you keep a backup, then you can just not make a big deal out of it as you’ve a backup.

Turn Off Settings When Not In Use

Hackers are able to do all sorts of things that will surprise you. Turning off phone settings like Bluetooth, Location Services, Near Field Communication (NFC), Wi-Fi and even Cellular Data when not in use not only conserves smartphone battery but also gives hackers less access to your device.

Location Services and Bluetooth should not be turned on when not in use as apps can use lots of location data without you knowing it. As Bluetooth is constantly transmitting your devices’ location and presence, it is possible for hackers to use it to gain access and extract any kind of information found on your device.

Be careful about which apps you download

Apps from the Play Store are far less likely to contain malware than ones from other sources. Only downloading from the Play Store will significantly cut down your security risk. Take the time to look into an app’s reviews, developer, description and permissions before you download it.

Try an antivirus

If you are security conscious and still don’t trust your smart browser from protecting you from the viruses, just install an anti-virus in your smartphone. Anti-virus for smartphones are spreading like wildfire so you should get yourself one too.

Always buy an antivirus that is good. Go to sites line www.Cnet.com to check the reviews of anti-virus and then only buy it. Don’t just buy an anti-virus out just from the wind. Remember ‘less money, more work’
Nowadays, there are a lot of fake antiviruses in the market. Yeah! You read that right, fake antivirus.These fake anti-viruses tell you that they can be downloaded it for free which is true. Now, they don’t kill viruses they make viruses. So beware of these types.

Get a skin

After all the hard work that your device does for you, you can do it a favor and buying it new clothes or as some would put it, skin. Skins are not only new clothes for your smarty, it also make them look attractive plus as a bonus, when you drop your smartphone for whatsoever reason, this skin may just be little protective as a shield or something.

Activate remote device locator

In case your smartphone is ever lost or stolen, the easiest way to remotely locate it is by installing a dedicated app and making sure that the option to track its location is always turned on.

For iOS there’s the tracking solution called “Find my iPhone”, Microsoft has “Find my phone”, and Android has “Android Device Manager”.

Have a Factory Data Reset

If you’re planning on selling your phone, make sure you don’t forget to do a Factory Data Reset before you give it away.

This way you’ll wipe all the data that was stored on it, including access to your accounts, system and app data and settings, downloaded apps, photos, music or any other data.

Don’t root your phone

Although rooting offers a lot of new options, it can also remove some of the built-in safeguards. It doesn’t make it more likely that your phone will be infected with a virus, but it does mean that more damage can be done if it does occur.

Use a VPN to connect to public Wi-Fi networks

Using a public Wi-Fi network isn’t the most secure option, but it’s just so dam handy! If you don’t want to cut out using those networks altogether, you can compromise by using a VPN. That way, your phone will be much safer when you connect.

Android is an open source platform, it is more vulnerable to attacks as hackers can easily find vulnerabilities on each device; iOS or Windows Phone are less vulnerable because their system codes are not openly shared to the public.

Want to learn Android Programming?

PPC – SomeOne SpenDing – SomeOne EarNing

We have the Internet that provides a huge platform for advertising products and services online. Advertisers around the world have shown a keen interest in making good use of the Internet that is omnipresent these days.

Contrary to the traditional advertising model, the recent methods of internet marketing involve innovative techniques to catch more eyeballs and pull online traffic to visit, listen, view, or buy a product or a service that is on offer. It is done through a model that is now being widely regarded as Pay Per Click (PPC). It is a successful model for internet advertising that directs online traffic to particular websites, where the advertisers pay the publishers a certain amount when their ad is clicked.

Pay-per-click (PPC), also known as cost per click (CPC), is an internet advertising model used to direct traffic to websites, in which an advertiser pays a publisher (typically a website owner or a network of websites) when the ad is clicked.

Entities Involved in PPC Advertising:

  • Product or Service Seller
  • PPC Advertiser
  • Landing Page Provider
  • Landing Page
  • Viewer or the Visitor

Take a close look at the illustrations below that depict the general roles of the entities involved in PPC advertising:

A product/service seller contacts advertisers for PPC based Ad programs.

PPC Advertiser creates Ads and provides landing pages for Ads.

Users click the Ads and visit the landing pages.

PPC – Bird’s eye view

Lets take a look at Terminology related to PPC:

Ad group
It is a collection of relevant keywords under one name. Maximum 20,000 keywords can be added into an Ad Group.

Ad Network
An Ad Network is an online business that specializes in matching up of advertisers to the websites looking to host the ad. Ad networks work as brokers for both suppliers (sites with content that can host ads, and buyers (the advertisers).

Ad Position
Ad position is the order in which an ad is displayed on a webpage. For example, ad position “1” means the ad is displayed first on the webpage.

Ad Rank
It is a value used to determine the Ad Proposition.

Call-To-Action (CTA)
This is a marketing term used for the action you want the website visitor to take.

Campaign
It is a series of relevant ad groups.

Click-Through-Rate (CTR)
It is a metric showing how often a visitor clicks your ad after seeing it. It can be defined as the number of clicks per thousand impressions. CTR contributes to Ad Rank.

Conversion
Conversion is the action the user wants when he clicks on an ad. It occurs when a visitor takes action. For example, the user makes purchases, signs ups, submits enquiry forms, views a page, or downloads, depending on the program’s goals.

Conversion Rate
It is the measurement of the success of a paid campaign. It is measured by the number of potential visitors performing any of the desired actions such as buying a product, filling a form, etc.

For example, if there are 100 visitors to a particular webpage via a PPC ad, and six of those 100 visitors buy the product the website sells, then the conversion rate for that particular ad is six percent. The larger the conversion rate, the more successful the website is.

Cost Per Action or Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)
It is the amount you pay for every lead, sign-up, or purchases.

Cost Per Click (CPC)
It implies the amount you pay for every single click on your ads.

Cost Per Mille (CPM)
It is the amount paid for every thousand views of the PPC ad.

Destination URL
It is where you want the user to land when he clicks on the ad.

Display URL
It is the name of a page of the website.

Geo-targeting
Delivery of ads to a particular geographic location of the users. It allows the advertisers to choose specific locations where they wish to show their ads.

Keyword
It is a search query made by a user. A word or a phrase of words entered in the search box by the user. The search engine matches your keywords and gives you relevant results on the Search Engine Result Page (SERP).

Landing Page
It is any standalone webpage distinct from the main website on which the visitor lands.

Negative Keywords
They are the ones for which you do not want your ad to appear.

PPC Bid
It is the maximum amount of fees an advertiser is ready to pay for a click.

Prospect
Prospect is a potential user who can buy a product/service being advertised.

Quality Score
It is a dynamic metrics assigned to each of your keywords and ads. It determines the quality of your keyword, ad, and the landing page. High quality score boosts the ad rank.

Creating a Keyword List

Keywords are the primitive entities of PPC ads. Choosing a correct and relevant set of keywords can help design a crisp and persuasive ad to fulfill the sole purpose of increasing the number of clicks on the ad.

You can use the given target model for keyword research and building a keyword list. The basic steps of building a keyword list are

  • Create a basic list (Seed List) of usual business terms
  • Expand the list using keyword research tools
  • Refine the list of keywords

Creating a Seed List

A seed list is nothing but the initial set of keywords of the seller’s business. Write down the six keyword categories in columns. Use a combination of brainstorming and investigation for categorizing the keywords into these six groups by keeping the brand and the product terms at the center of attention.

You need to build this list thoroughly, keeping in mind all the features of the product or service the seller is providing. You need to ponder and create a list of words about what all problems this particular product or service can solve.

Expanding the List

Initially, you need to think of only a few dozens of keywords, then expand, and finally refine. While expanding, you can add new potential keywords in the existing list so that the list is always up-to-date. For this, you need to:

  • Review the seller’s website for new or upcoming products or services.
  • Understand how people talk about the product and its features.
  • Identify unique and well-performing keywords that need to be added in the list.
  • Use keywords research tools for various suggestions.

Refining the List

While expanding, you may have added non-value adding or non-interesting keywords. Now it is time to refine the keywords list by eliminating the less interesting keywords and keeping only the best ones. There is no hard and fast rule to do this. Refining the keywords list is vital, as you need to take care not introduce any negative effect on the present list.

Keyword Research Tools

Keyword research tools help you to expand the list of keywords in most relevance of the seller’s product or service. These tools suggest numerous variations of the words from which we can select the appropriate one.

These tools include:

  • Google AdWords Keyword Planner
  • Word Tracker
  • SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tools
  • Keyword Discovery
  • SpyFu

Writing a Killer PPC Ad

Refer the diagram shown below. To create an effective and compelling ad, the following methodology is helpful:

Elements of a PPC Ad

Refer the following image to understand the elements of a PPC ad.

Headline – This is the main title of the ad. It must be magnetic, crisp, and compact.

Display URL – This is the link of the relevant web page where the prospects will be taken onto. It is not required to be the exact landing page but it should be relevant. You can, for example, include your website with the top keyword in your Ad Campaign.

Description Line 1 and 2 – This is the body of the ad. It describes the product or the service the seller is offering.

Landing Pages

If you create a beautiful and catchy PPC ad with an effective Call-To-Action and do not link an appropriate landing page to it, then all your efforts go in vain.
Use of landing pages in the PPC ads helps to:

  • Increase conversion
  • Reduce Cost-Per-Click (CPC)
  • Reduce bounce rate

Elements of an Effective Landing Page:

  • Engaging and beautiful appearance.
  • Well-organized contents.
  • Tight coupling between advertise and page contents.
  • Simple, yet descriptive and informative.
  • Clear and discrete Call-To-Action and offers.
  • Capability of building trust about authenticity of a product or service the seller offers.
  • Capability of pursuing the visitors to take action.

PPC Bidding

Bidding is offering a competitive price that a bidder is ready to pay for a service. The term ‘bidding’ is always used in the context of auction. Bidding is very useful to set the value of an object, an art piece, a property, a commodity, etc. The amount itself is called as a bid.

In the context of internet marketing, the amount an online business organization allocates for PPC advertising is known as PPC bid. The bids specify the maximum amount that an organization is ready to pay each time a user clicks your ad. This is called the maximum Cost-Per-Click (max CPC).

Factors That Affect Bidding:

  • Advertising budget of the organization
  • The time the organization plans to use paid advertising.
  • Keyword popularity
  • Competition from other advertisers

What to Bid For?

With the help of bid management tools, you can bid for:

  • Conversion events such as video views, contact forms, store directions, the time of ad display, etc.
  • Keywords such as brand phrases, user phrases, direct response phrases, lead generation phrases, engaging phrases, etc.

Want to learn Digital Marketing?

Overhangs and supports in my 3D prints

Typical home 3D printers use the fused filament fabrication technology, which consists of melting a thread of plastic in a nozzle and building up the printed object with the molten plastic from the bottom up, layer by layer. As a consequence you can’t just print any shape you want: Everything needs to be connected to the bottom layer with an angle of no more than 45°. For my particular application, printing figurines of heroes and monsters for Dungeons & Dragons, that is certainly a problem. Think of a hero with his arm stretched out, holding a sword, or a dragon with spread wings: These parts are “overhangs”, which when seen from the bottom up start up in the air, and thus can’t be printed like that.

The solution to the problem is supports, temporary parts of the model for printing which are removed after the print is finished. Most printers even have software to automatically create such supports. Unfortunately for my particular printer, the XYZ Da Vinci jr. 1.0w, the automatically created supports don’t work very well. The software simply creates supports straight up from the bottom under every minor overhang. That creates far more supports than actually needed, wasting material and producing lots of ugly connection spots on the underside of the model.

For some time I created supports manually, using Tinkercad. That is somewhat fiddly, and also far from optimized. Again the supports I design are mostly straight up from the bottom. Choosing the right number of support points is somewhat hit and miss, so sometimes I print a model, see where my design didn’t really cover an overhang, and then have to add more supports.

But recently I found a much better solution. The free Autodesk Meshmixer software has the possibility to generate supports in the Analysis – Overhangs menu. There are even tons of parameters you can set to optimize those supports. And instead of simple straight up supports, the software produces angled and branched supports, which use much less material. You can also optimize the thickness of the support and the width of the tip to create supports that are stable to print but minimize the size of the connection points.

This software has quite opened up my possibilities of printing miniatures for my game. For example the Princes of the Apocalypse cover art shows a winged female with a spear. Between the wings and the spear she would have been nearly impossible for me to print. But now I printed her with the Meshmixer generated supports and even managed to make her “fly”, her feet not touching the ground. Now I’m only limited by the fragility of the wings and spear when printed at 1:60 scale.

Rage of Demons: Session 5

In the previous session the group left Gracklstugh and traveled to Neverlight Grove. As they had spent two sessions in Gracklstugh, I thought I could at the very least fill one full session with the events in Neverlight Grove. Unfortunately I was wrong, and and we had a short session due to me running out of prepared material. My bad!

The myconids of Neverlight Grove are a peaceful people, organized into circles. Even their “hunter circle” doesn’t actually kill things, but just collects corpses of anything that dies close to the village and uses them as fertilizer. So the group’s first encounter with the myconids (other than their travel companions Stool and Rumpadump) was after they killed a Shambling Mound near the village, and the “hunters” turned up and asked politely if they could collect it. That got the group a friendly welcome to the village, and a quest to kill another monster which was attacking myconids outside the village.

I had some commercial poster battlemaps of Underdark caves, and used one of them for this fight against a Grick alpha. What I hadn’t noticed was that on the map there was a pond with treasure chests visible at the bottom. So after the fight the group wanted to lift those chests, and I didn’t want to spoil their fun and say there weren’t any. So I let them roll on the appropriate treasure table in the DM’s Guide, and they ended up with a Figurine of Wondrous Power (Ebony Fly). Nice, but not overpowered.

Back in the village the group interacted with the myconids and learned that they were split in two factions. The “normal” ones were a bit naive, friendly, and not very emotional. The others were overly enthusiastic, dancing around, and awaiting a great event for tomorrow in the Garden of Welcome. They were asked not to go to the garden so as to not spoil the surprise, so of course they went.

That resulted in several fights against infected myconids and other creatures. Ultimately the group discovered yet another demon lord, Zuggtmoy, who apparently is preparing her wedding to the “Great Body”. Various infected plant creatures serve as chamberlains and bridesmaids in some sort of perverted wedding ceremony. But it is rather obvious that the group can’t stop the wedding without fighting the “bride”, and they aren’t strong enough to tackle demon lords yet. While the un-infected myconids flee, the group decides that they should do the same, and travel on towards Blingdenstone.

Combat optional

One of the comments on my previous post on Zelda about combat feeling optional got me thinking. Role-playing games evolved from war games: The full name of TSR, the company that first made Dungeons & Dragons, was “Tactical Studies Rules”; and the game evolved out of a squad-based war game with heroes fighting monsters. Since then combat against monsters has been very much at the heart of role-playing games of all sorts. Frequently you gained experience points, and thus levels, and thus power, by killing monsters. In MMORPGs that even led to players thinking about monsters as being a resource, with other players being a nuisance for “killstealing” or otherwise taking that monster resource away from you.

In Zelda – Breath of the Wild the monster is back where it belongs: In the role of an obstacle. There are no xp to gain, killing monsters doesn’t increase your power. Yes, you might earn a nice weapon in a treasure, but you could also break your weapon while killing the monsters and then find a worse replacement in their treasure chest. Monsters drop monster parts, which can be combined with stuff like insects to cook elixirs (which sell for much more than the monster parts). There is even a special trader in the game that allows you to trade monster parts for another currency with which you can buy special items like monster disguises. But in the long run, killing monsters frequently just isn’t worth it. When exploring in the mountains and getting attacked by a monster, I’d try to punt it over a ledge and got rid of it, even if that meant I wouldn’t loot it.

Combat isn’t completely optional however. At the very least you will need to kill 5 different incarnations of Ganon, the big evil guy, before reaching the closing credits. If you want to do all shrines, about 10% of them consist of a combat trial, and some others have lesser guardian monsters mixed with puzzles. You might also want at some point in time farm certain monster parts to upgrade armor with. But what I like is that you can wander the landscape and decide to circumvent a monster camp if you don’t feel like attacking it. Because you don’t have to fight everything.

Doublethink

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it: in Newspeak, “doublethink.”

I have a memory problem. My memory is too good. When a few years ago I became interested in the history of the American Civil War and read a lot of books, saw a lot of documentary films and the like, the culture wars hadn’t reached that area of history yet. And so my memory tells me that in those unpolitical history books Robert E. Lee was depicted as a decent person. Yeah, sure, he was fighting for the losing side, and the losing side was obviously pro-slavery and thus on the wrong side of history. But history, before it got redacted by “the Party”, said that Lee wasn’t a political firebrand. He only entered the war reluctantly, out of a sense of duty to his state. He was a slaveholder in a state where everybody who had any social status was a slaveholder. At the time history still judged him on his actions as a general in the war. And on that count he wasn’t doing all that badly, being both competent and humane. If you took history documents from a decade ago and judged by them who the more decent human being was, Robert E. Lee would probably win over William T. Sherman, who was fighting on the winning side, but with far more brutal methods.

Of course that was a decade ago, and I really need to reformat my memory. Today the party line is that the statue of William T. Sherman in New York Central Park is honoring a hero, while the statues of Robert E. Lee are being torn down everywhere for being too offensive. An Asian American ESPN sports commentator, who unfortunately has the name Robert Lee, was pulled from a game because his name was considered too toxic to be on TV.

Now statues of the losers being torn down is quite a usual occurrence after a war, don’t we all remember the pictures of people tearing down statues of Saddam Hussein? What is somewhat weird is doing it 150 years after the war ended. Hey guys, we just discovered that Robert E. Lee was fighting for the slave-holding South, so we need to remove his statues now! Sorry we didn’t notice that earlier! What on earth has Robert E. Lee done in the past years to deserve such a fate now that he didn’t deserve a decade ago?

Although blaming “both sides” apparently isn’t politically correct any more either (or maybe it is if the other side is the “right” one?), I would say that the extreme right rallying around confederate symbols is of course a major trigger to those symbols suddenly becoming politically incorrect. That makes Robert E. Lee a victim, being caught in the middle of a culture war. It might have some rather hilarious results if the extreme right would chose symbols that more difficult to tear down, like the American flag. To some extent the Constitution of the United States of America is already a symbol of the extreme right, if you find somebody with a copy of it in his pocket he probably is a Trump voter. Or an immigrant in the process of learning it by heart as part of the naturalization process. Or a supreme court judge. So fortunately we don’t have to burn it yet in order to be politically correct.

Nevertheless, as a student of history I find the efforts to change or re-interpret history 150 years later somewhat worrying. Imagine we would tear down the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, because Napoleon lost his wars 200 years ago, and for some reason we now find his symbols offensive. When the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan, we lamented the loss of history. Isn’t the preservation of history a bigger value for humanity than the need to remove anything that could be deemed offensive? If the culture wars rage back and forth, with both sides being in power at some point, aren’t we in danger of losing all our history, because it doesn’t fit with some party line? If history is offensive, which it certainly sometimes is, aren’t we still losing more by erasing it than by preserving it as a reminder to do better next time around?

Squeeze play: compression in video interfaces

In 2014 the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) introduced the 1.0 version of its Display Stream Compression (DSC) specification, the first standard system for compressing video specifically intended for use with hardwired display interfaces. The DSC standard was also endorsed by the MIPI Alliance, paving the way for widespread use in mobile devices and other applications beyond VESA’s original PC-centric focus.

Last year, version 1.2 was published, extending the feature set to include the 4:2:0 and 4:2:2, YCbCr formats commonly seen in digital television, and the group continues to develop and extend DSC’s capabilities and features.

But why the need for compression in the first place? Is it a good thing overall? Simply put, DSC’s adoption  is driven by the seemingly-insatiable appetite for more pixels, greater bit depth, and ever-increasing refresh rates. While the real need for some of these is debatable, there’s no argument that, especially in mobile devices, there’s a need to deliver high-quality, high-definition images while consuming the bare minimum of power. That leads to the need for compression.

A 1920 x 1080 image – considered just a moderate “resolution” these days – at a 60 Hz refresh rate and using 24-bit per pixel RGB encoding requires transmitting almost 3 gigabits of information every second between source and display, and that’s not even counting the inevitable overhead. Move up to “8K” video, as is coming to the market now, and that rate goes up geometrically. 48 billion bits of information need to move every second. That’s fast enough to fill a 1 TB drive in well under three minutes.

Leawo The move from 1080p to 4K, HDR, and even 8K content requires more and more data, increasing the necessity for compression to shrink file sizes.

Digital interface standards like DisplayPort and HDMI have done an admirable job of keeping up with this growing appetite for data capacity. DisplayPort 1.4 is capable of over 32 Gbits/sec., and future versions are expected to push that to 40 Gbits and higher. But these increases come at a price; all else being equal, faster transmission rates always take more power, on top of the generally higher power requirements of higher-resolution displays. Something has to give.

Compression is actually a pretty old idea, and it’s based on the fact that data (and especially image data) generally contains a lot of unnecessary information; there’s a high degree of redundancy.

Let’s say I point an HDTV camera at a uniformly white wall. It’s still sending out that three gigabits of data every second, even though you might as well be sending a simple “this frame is the same as the last one” message after the first one has been sent. Even within that first frame, if the picture is truly just a uniform white, you should be able to get away with sending just a single white pixel and then indicating, somehow, “don’t worry about anything else – they all look like that!” The overwhelming majority of that 3 Gbits/sec data torrent is wasted.

In mobile devices, compression standards give us the means for connecting high-res external displays— like VR headsets— without chewing through the battery or needing a huge connector.

In a perfect situation we could eliminate everything but that single pixel of information and still wind up with a picture that would be identical to the original: a perfectly uniform white screen. This would be a case of completely lossless compression — if  we can assume that “perfect” situation. What eliminating redundancy does, though, in addition to reducing the amount of data you need to transmit, is to make it all that much more important that the data you are sending gets through unchanged. In other words, you’ve made your video stream much more sensitive to noise. Imagine what happens if, in sending that one pixel’s worth of “white” that’s going to set the color for the whole screen, a burst of noise knocks out all the blue information. You wind up with red and green, but no blue, which turns our white screen yellow. Since we’ve stopped sending all those redundant frames, it stays that way until a change in the source image causes something new to be sent.

The goal is to come up with a compression system that is visually lossless

So compression, even “mathematically lossless” compression, can still have an impact on the image quality at the receiving end. The goal is to come up with a compression system that is visually lossless, meaning it results in images indistinguishable from the uncompressed video signal by any human viewer. Careful design of the compression system can enable this while still allowing a significant reduction in the amount of data sent.

Imagine that instead of a plain white image, we’re sending typical video; coverage of a baseball game, for instance. But instead of sending each pixel of every frame, we send every other pixel. Odd pixels on one frame, and even pixels on the next. I’ve just cut the data rate in half, but thanks to the redundancy of information across frames, and the fact that I’m still maintaining a 60 Hz rate, the viewer never sees the difference. The “missing” data is made up, too rapidly to be noticed. That’s not something that’s actually used in any compression standard, as far as I know, but it shows how a simple “visually lossless” compression scheme might work.

If you’re familiar with the history of video, that example may have sounded awfully familiar. It’s very close to interlaced transmission, which used in the original analog TV systems. Interlacing can be understood as a crude form of data compression. It’s not really going to be completely visually lossless; some visible artifacts would still be expected (especially when objects moving within the image). But even such a simple system would still give surprisingly good results while saving a lot of interface bandwidth.

Synopsys An example of how DSC and DSI interoperate on host and device sides, and sample compression rates with and without DSC.

VESA’s DSC specification is a good deal more sophisticated, and produces truly visually lossless results in a large number of tests. The system can provide compression on the order of 3:1, easily permitting “8K” video streams to even be carried over earlier versions of DisplayPort or HDMI. It does this via a relatively simple yet elegant algorithm that can be implemented in a minimum of additional circuitry, keeping the power load down to something easily handled in a mobile product — possibly even providing a net savings over running the interface at the full, uncompressed rate.

If you’re worried about any sort of compression still having a visible effect on your screen, consider the following. Over-the-air HDTV broadcasts are possible only because of the very high degree of compression that was built into the digital TV standard. Squeezing a full-HD broadcast, even one in which the source is an interlaced format like “1080i,” requires compression ratios on the order of 50:1 or more. The 1.5 Gbits per second of a 1080i, 60 Hz video stream had to be shoehorned into a 6 MHz channel (providing at best a little more than a 19 megabit-per-second capacity). HTDV broadcasts very typically work with less than a single bit per pixel in the final compressed data stream as it’s sent over the air, resulting in a clear, sharp HD image on your screen. When unusually high noise levels come up, the now-familiar blocky “compression artifacts” of digital TV pop up, but this really doesn’t happen all that often. Proprietary systems such as broadcast satellite or cable TV can use even heavier compression, and as a result show these sorts of problems much more frequently.

In the better-controlled environment of a wired digital interface, and with the much milder compression ratios of DSC, images transmitted using this system will probably be visually perfect. In mobile devices, compression standards such as these will give us the means for connecting high-res external displays— like VR headsets— without chewing through the battery or needing a huge connector.

You’ll very likely never even know it’s there.

Ordered a new 3D printer

I’ve been using my XYZ da Vinci Junior 1.0w 3D printer for a year now. It is still working. However I have learned a lot during that year, I’m printing more complicated models now, and I’m reaching the limits of what the machine can do. I still think it is a great printer for a beginner, but now I want something much better. So I ordered a Zortrax M200 Plus. The “Plus” is important, as this is the brand-new and improved model of the M200, which is highly regarded but now 5 years old.

The first difference between the two printers is the price. The da Vinci Junior was 471€, the Zortrax M200 Plus is 2,369€. Obviously not the same league. The da Vinci Junior uses PLA, the Zortrax can use PLA, ABS, and some other materials. The old M200 was really best used with ABS, but the new Plus version has better cooling fans, so PLA should come out fine now as well. The main difference is that the XYZ printer was only able to use proprietary XYZ filaments, while the new Zortrax also works with filaments from other suppliers. That was a major point of annoyance for the old printer for me; the spools came with an RFID chip, and if the chip said your spool was empty, the printer refused to use the spool. As the chip counted loading, unloading, and failed prints as lost material even if there was no actual material lost, I always ended up having to throw away the last meters of the spool. And the material was far more expensive than it should have been. However at the start I’ll use Zortrax ABS, just because the software knows the best settings for that material.

Where the difference between the two printers is likely to be biggest is in the quality of the prints. At the shop where I ordered the printer they had sample prints of little miniatures similar to those I often make, and the quality was *much* better. On the best setting you don’t even see the layers any more with the Zortrax M200 Plus. Of course it remains to be seen how good it will work with my prints. But the experimenting and fiddling around is all part of the hobby, the resulting miniatures are more of a secondary benefit. 🙂

From what I see in reviews the main issue with the Zortrax is that the software is very slow. I saw a YouTube video of a guy using the old Zortrax M200 to print a Harry Potter wand, and the software took 25 minutes to slice that model. That has probably to do with the print being with rafts (mandatory with the Zortrax) and supports. I suspect the supports use a lot of slicing time, I’ll have to try with and without it. But from the video it appears that the supports are easy to remove, which could be a plus. Now I finally understand the models of Miguel Zavala: Many of them can’t be printed without those automatically generated supports, and the supports generated by the XYZ software are very bad. So up to now I had to fiddle around with the models a lot, disassemble them digitally, reassemble them digitally, and generate functional supports with Meshmixer. I might be able to just hit a print button in the future, which will be faster even if the slicing is slow.

I’ll let you know how the new printer works out once it is delivered and installed.

Best gifts for gamers

A lot of people who own smartphones and tablets use them for more than surfing the internet, texting, and socializing. They also use them a lot to play games. In a recent survey from Statista, 56 percent, or over half of the entire population of the US, are currently playing mobile games. That amount is expected to expand to 63.7 percent by 2020. But what sort of gifts are the right kind for hardcore gamers?

In this feature, we offer our picks for the best smartphones and tablets that are currently on the market for gaming, along with suggestions for a few accessories that could be great gifts for gamers. Finally, we don’t want to ignore the game consoles that you hook up to your big screen TV; we will offer our recommendation on which of the three current generation game consoles you should buy, and the answer may actually surprise you.

A jack of all trades — ZTE Axon M

Today’s smartphones make great portable gaming devices, while tablets are great for those times when we need a bit more screen real estate from our mobile gaming experience. But what about a wild card of a device that can serve as both your phone and your tablet? The ZTE Axon M is a unique device that is perfect for those that want to take their  gaming to the next level. 

The ZTE Axon M uses two 5.2-inch IPS Full HD panels that are connected to a hinge that, when it is folded out, it essentially turns the device into a 6.75-inch tablet. This is great for running two apps side by side, extending apps and games across both displays, and much more. In addition to the potential for gaming and media, the Axon M also makes for one heck of a multi-tasking device.

As you can imagine, this phone also stands out in a crowd, perfect for those who like to rock phones that are different from the endless sea of Samsung and iPhone devices.Without a doubt, this is one of the most unique phones you can buy right now. You can get it via AT&T for $724.99 without a contract, or for $24.17 a month for 24 months. 

Get it at AT&T

Best gaming phone — Razer Phone

If you want to get a smartphone that’s dedicated to offering the best mobile gaming experience, it’s really impossible to beat the Razer Phone at the moment. This is the first smartphone from Razer, who has been highly successful in releasing PC accessories for hardcore gamers, and more recently has launched critically acclaimed Windows-based gaming laptops. For their first, but likely not last, entry in the smartphone industry, Razer put in a bunch of high-end hardware, including a couple of features that are not in any other smartphone.

Editor’s Pick

The biggest feature for gamers is the Razer Phone’s big IGZO 5.7-inch 2,560 x 1,440p display, which can run at up to 120 Hz. The higher refresh rate, compared to the normal 60 Hz on other smartphones, should allow games, especially high-end titles with advanced graphics, to play and look smoother on the Razer Phone. The display also uses what Razer calls Ultra Motion technology, which is similar to NVIDIA’s G-Sync tech that is supported by many PC desktop monitors. Ultra Motion allows the Razer Phone’s display refresh rate to sync up to the output of its GPU. This is supposed to get rid of any screen tearing and, again, make games played on the phone look and run better compared to other handsets.

In addition to the high-end visuals, the Razer Phone has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor inside, which, at the moment, is the fastest chip you can get on a phone. It also has 8 GB of LPDRR4 RAM, which again should help graphically intensive games perform better. There’s 64 GB of onboard storage, and you can add more with its microSD card slot. In terms of audio, Razer claims it has the loudest phone on the market, with two front-facing speakers with Dolby Atmos technology. There’s no 3.5 mm headphone jack in the Razer Phone, but it does include a dongle for its USB-C port that includes support for 24-bit DAC audio that is THX-certified. Finally, it has a large 4,000 mAh battery that Razer says should allow for up to 8 hours of gaming on one charge, which should be plenty if you are on a long trip.

Simply put, mobile gamers won’t be able to get a phone quite as good as the Razer Phone for a while, and it’s actually a great first effort from a company that has never launched a smartphone before. The price is also right at $699.99 unlocked, which is very reasonable when you consider the high-end hardware inside. If you can ignore its non-gaming issues, the Razer Phone is one of the best gifts for gamers you can buy.

Get it at Razerzone

Alternate gaming phone — Samsung Galaxy Note 8 

 
Bigger is definitely better when it comes to mobile gaming. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8, with its 6.3-inch Super AMOLED 2,960 x 1,440 display in an 18.5:9 aspect ratio, offers up the biggest and best screen you can get in the US on an Android smartphone. It helps that the phone also comes with a speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and 6 GB of RAM. You even get an old-fashioned headphone jack with the Note 8. While it doesn’t have a 120 Hz screen refresh rate or the advanced sound features that the Razer phone does, gamers should get a lot out of its huge screen combined with a fast processor. It’s not cheap, but at least you can pay for the Galaxy Note 8 over time if you get it from a wireless carrier.
 
Get it at Amazon

Best gaming tablet — Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

 
Samsung’s recent high-end Android tablet is the best among gifts for gamers. It has a 9.7-inch Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels, with support for high dynamic range (HDR) features that should allow games to look and play well. While the Tab S3 doesn’t have as much in the RAM and processor department as some smartphones, it uses the older Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip and 4 GB of RAM. However, the well-designed display, combined with four speakers, makes the Tab S3 the best, at least for now, for Android gaming, although perhaps not as good of an overall choice compared to many high-end Android phones.
 
Editor’s Pick
 
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 was launched earlier this year at $599, but you can snap it up now on Amazon and save over $100, at $498.
Get it at Amazon

Alternate — Amazon Fire HD 10 

 
If you are looking for a solid but inexpensive gaming tablet, you really should look no further than the Amazon Fire HD 10. The 10.1 inch 1080p (1,920 x 1,200) display can handle any game, and it has a decent 1.8 GHz quad-core processor and 2 GB RAM. While it’s not as powerful as the Galaxy Tab S3, those folks looking to save some money will still get a good gaming experience with Amazon’s highest-end tablet. You can get it for as low as $149.99 (with 32 GB and with “special offers” on its lock screen).
 
Get it at Amazon

Gamer accessory gifts 

Chromecast Ultra
 
 
Want to play thousands of Android games on your big 4K TV? You can. if you connect the Chromecast Ultra HDMI dongle to one of your spare HDMI ports. Just cast your games onto the screen with this $69 accessory, and play like you would on a game console.
 
Get it at Google

POWER A MOGA Hero Power Game Controller

 

No matter how powerful your gaming smartphone may be, it can still be hard to control games with its touchscreen, especially for games like racing and shooter titles. The POWER A MOGA Hero Power Game Controller allows you to connect your smartphone to a Bluetooth-based console gamepad, and you can even attach any smartphone up to 6-inches to the controller, letting you play for hours without having to worry about holding your phone on its own. It also comes with its own rechargeable 1,800 mAh battery. If you want a portable console experience for your smartphone, this controller will fit the bill nicely.

Get it at Amazon

Samsung Gear VR — 2017 edition

The current 2017 version of the Samsung Gear VR mobile headset (co-developed by Oculus) lets you play VR games, many of which are exclusive to the Gear VR. Owners of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, along with the Galaxy S8, S8 Plus, Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge, Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, and even the Galaxy Note 5 can all use the headset, which comes with its own controller. If you happen to own one of these phones, it’s perhaps the best way to experience high-end VR gaming.

Get it at Amazon

 Anker PowerCore Speed 10,000 mAh Battery Charger

The simple fact is that even if you have a big batter on your smartphone, like the 4,000 mAh battery on the Razer Phone, it will still run out in less than a day if you play on it constantly. That’s why it’s great to have an external battery charger like the Anker PowerCore Speed 10,000 mAh model. It can charge up your Razer Phone twice on its own, giving you more time to play on your high end handset. It’s also available for just $29 at Amazon.

Get it at Amazon

Best Game Console – Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch is perhaps the best game console you can buy for a gamer on the go. Simply put, the Switch can turn quickly from a high-end game console that you hook up to your TV over to a portable handheld console, where you can play for up to six hours on its own battery. You can play it with two of the console’s Joy-Con controllers, one on each side, or you and a friend can play games on the portable screen, each with a Joy-Con in your hands. You can even put a pair of these new controllers in a Joy-Con grip accessory, if you want a more old-fashioned console experience.

Plus there’s the fact that the Nintendo Switch is the exclusive way to play some of the most acclaimed games of 2017, including Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and many more. Finally, it’s likely that the hardcore gamer that you want to spend your money on already has a PlayStation 4/4 Pro, or an Xbox One S/X. He or she might think that the Nintendo Switch is for kids or families, but the purchase of Nintendo’s latest — and possibly best — game console in years might convert them into fans.

Get it at Amazon
 
Those are just some of the best gifts you can get for gamers. We want to hear from you about which gifts for gamers you would pick out for fans. Let us know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!
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