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Week in Tech: Ask Oculus, Cheap 4K, Other Stuff

Oculus Reparo

The Oculus Rift. You ask. They tell. Everything you want to know. That's the plan, anyway. They're busy chaps, but I'll dust off my boxed copy of Windows 98 and do my best to beat some answers out of them. In the meantime, there's been some movement in the 4K display arena. Dell has announced a couple of new 4K PC monitors, including a 24 incher (think of the pixel pitch, oh my science the pixel pitch) and what looks like a bargain priced 4K TN monitor. Oh, and some other stuff including an update on AMD Radeon R9 290s with better cooling in time for Xmas and a solution to one of the last great challenges in modern life, plugging in USB devices.

Riffing on the Rift
The Oculus Rift is probably the biggest blank in my PC gaming-experience memory banks. I'm hoping to acquire some first-hand data in the new year. What I'd really like to try are the mythical sub-20ms response headsets that Oculus says it now has running internally.

I doubt I'll get a shot at that, but I'm desperate to try whatever's going. I'm in contact with Oculus and it will hopefully happen in the new year. In the meantime, I thought you might like an opportunity to pick their virtually rendered and infinitely expansive brains. The Oculus crew are a busy bunch and I've been warned not to expect an insta-response. But put your hopes, dreams and doubts below and it could be the beginning of something beautiful.

4K for the masses
Now, then, for you uber-res addicts, the good news is that Dell has added a pair of 4K displays to its line up. The interesting bits involve both pricing and form factors.

Until now, 4K has has effectively meant £3k in terms of UK pricing. It also means going beyond 30 inches in terms of proportions. The former is definitely a deal breaker for most people. The latter is beginning to run into ergonomic issues. Just how big is too big for a PC display?

Anyway, the new Dell kit starts with a 24-inch 4K effort that will be priced at $1,399 (call it £1,000 or so in the UK with the dreaded VAT bomb), the UP2414Q. It's pitched as a high-end model in Dell's UltraSharp line and sports IPS technology.

24 inches, 4K and yours for a bag of sand

Yup, that's 3,840 by 2,160 on a 24-inch panel. Immediately I'm worried about Windows DPI scaling, font sizes and broader usability. But the pixel pitch. Oh lordy, the pixel pitch.

At normal viewing distances, we're probably approaching 'retina' display territory where picking out individual pixels becomes marginal. Can you imagine the image quality?

But wait, arguably even more intriguing is the Dell P2815Q. Not as much is known about this model, but a few key facts have emerged. It will be priced below $1,000 Stateside and it's not an Ultra Sharp model.

The best info I have says the only 4K 28-inch panel being manufactured is actually a TN thing from Chi Mei Optoelectronics (sounds a bit like the bad guy's shell corporation from an 80s action flick but is actually the world's fourth largest LCD maker, if you care about such things).

TN plus 4K is not an obvious combination. But in the context of the P2815Q's pricing it certainly looks like that might just be what Dell has done. 28 inches is arguably a better fit for 4K PC monitors, too, and TN actually has plenty going for it gaming wise (it's the fastest panel tech in terms of response times), so colour me intrigued.

Having said all that, with all these 4K displays the biggest is issue is driving the bloody things at native resolution. Currently, that's a problem even for the beefiest GPUs, though I do wonder how the 24 inch model would look running at 1,920 by 1,080 in pixel doubling mode.

Then again, 3D hardware will eventually catch up. Having some nice, cheap 4K screens ready and waiting would be handy.

Radeon revisited
As for the AMD Radeon R9 290, the big question is when third-party cooling solutions will arrive. You can already buy an aftermarket cooler and bolt it on. Some early testing suggests it's a big help.

Board makers like Sapphire have to offload their reference 290s before they can release any home-brew efforts

But that has the unfortunate collateral effect of nuking your warranty. What we want is AMD's partners putting out finished boards with better, quieter cooling. I happened to have lunch with the UK rep of one of the bigger add-in-board brands the other day and he assured me they're on the way. They'd be here now if it was up to him, but the deal with AMD is that you have to buy a bunch of reference cards and work your way through those first before you're allowed to do your own thing.

Anyway, I'm told we might see the first 290s with third party cooling later this month. If that happens, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend pulling the trigger. Looking back on my past posts, I'm probably guilty of not emphasising enough what a outstanding proposition the 290 is. We're talking about a £300 card that delivers performance that's subjectively near-as-dammit indistinguishable from a £500 Nvidia GTX 780 Ti.

Water cool your 290 today. But kiss goodbye to that warranty

But the shenanigans with the cooling have been off putting. Once that's fixed, the 290 is an absolute no brainer. Get your credit cards ready, chaps! And for those of you who can't stretch to a 290, I may just be able to help. Well, one of you, anyway...watch this space.

And finally...
Do you struggle to plug in USB devices? Is a 180-degree cable rotation an onerous impingement on your personal liberty? Then I'm happy to tell you the USB 3.0 Promoter Group has the answer.

It's USB Type-C and – wait for it – the plug will be reversible. No more lost evenings hammering away at the socket with the plug 180 degrees out of alignment. Actually, Type-C will be much smaller than a standard USB plug and will be bolstered by a doubling of bandwidth courtesy of USB 3.1. So forget the facetiousness, it's a welcome development albeit not expected to be finalised until mid 2014 so we're probably a year away from compatible peripherals, much less PCs.

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Jeremy Laird