In the PC world audio components are often overlooked. There are only so many items that your average consumer can keep track of. They know CPU, GPU Motherboard. Some will know about the power supply but really not much else. After all, Intel and others have been fighting to say the build in Audio CODEC on your average motherboard is as good as a discrete audio card so why should consumers think different? Well, if you think about it logically this does not make sense. After all, can you name one IGP (integrated graphics processor) that is as good as even a simple mid-range discrete GPU? I would not even say that the IGP on the i7 2600K is as good. So why would anyone think that an on-board audio CODEC would be better or even “just as good”? It is all marketing. We have tested multiple boards and also multiple add-in audio cards and can attest to this. Now I think I have found “the one”. The one audio card that finally brings the audiophile level expectation to the PC world. This is the Xonar Xense. It is Asus’ flagship audio card and one that has them partnered up with Sennheiser. The Xonar Xense comes complete with a pair of Sennheiser PC 350 Xense Edition headphones, a tuned audio card (complete with custom gain levels), and a head phone amplifier this is one serious piece of audio gear for your gaming or multi-media audio pleasure. So let’s put the PC 350 Xense headphones on, sit back and see what we can hear.
Have you noticed that the selection for good quality audio components for the PC is dwindling? I mean the number of companies that make add-in sound cards, good quality analog (and digital) speaker sets and yes even head phones (for those of us that have to maintain a low volume presence). There was a time when the choices in audio gear was large enough that you had to do quite a bit of research to get something that fit right. Now, well the pickings are slim. However, just because they are limited does not mean there are not any good ones out there. As we recently found with the Cine5 from Asus some companies are getting back into the audio game. We had the chance to talk to Asus about their recent improvements in quality audio products (both on their boards and their own line of audio gear). Asus said they recognize that gamers, enthusiasts and HTPC owners are looking for better audio from their components; as such Asus is moving to provide these parts at all levels to meet this need. One of the products they have released is a set of plug and play wireless headphones; the Travelite HS-1000W. These headphones operate from a single USB audio dongle that acts as both audio processing device and charging connection. They are lightweight and while not exactly “stylish” still look pretty good. Now it is time for us to see if they work well or not.
About two weeks ago we saw a random tweet that seemed to indicate that Microsoft had added in technology that would allow for easier spying on Skype conversations. Right after this a tweet on the YourAnonNews feed seemed to indicate that the “bug” that was accidentally sending some conversations to random members of your contact list was related to the new “feature”. There was a much more ominous tweet about an hour later that claimed Skype had been hacked and the source code downloaded. Although we never were able to confirm the relationship to the bug and the reworking of supernodes to switch to Microsoft run servers, we did find out that the released code was not the official source code, but a posting of a decompiled version of the Skype application; still useful if you wanted to look for an exploit, but not the original source code to be sure.
About a month ago a memo was “leaked’ by the DEA to CNET that started a storm of articles about how secure some online messaging systems were. The memo appeared to indicate the Apple’s iMessage service was so secure that it could not be broken by government agents. They claimed that they were not able to get message details or information. Sadly, the memo ended up making the DEA look incompetent and showed that it was just an attempt to sway public opinion on the need for more surveillance powers for law enforcement.
In Saudi Arabia, there is no joking about the data traffic that comes out of the country, and therefore apps such as Skype, Viber and WhatsApp could soon be in serious problem. The government has announced through the telecom operators that if they don’t start start to censor messages sent from these services, they will seriously think about how to ban their use.
After watching the Department of Homeland Security try to force new amendments allowing them very expanded powers to police and control the Internet it seems the FBI wants to get in on some of this too. You see The FBI and law enforcement are having a hard time doing their job (according to them) and their current methods for gathering information with a warrant are just not enough. They would like Mandatory backdoors into online communication services like Skype, MSN, Gmail etc.
When Microsoft bought Skype it was to deal with a couple of issues. One of the big ones was to remove a competitor in the communications market and the other was to make sure they were not going to get sued for the direction their own communications services were taking. Microsoft had been floundering in the consumer market despite the multiple changes they tried to make to their messenger product. While their enterprise messaging software was complicated and expensive to maintain and to properly integrate with other messaging services. To combat this Microsoft was already looking to make their messaging services much more like Skype than they were.
What do Apple, Microsoft (Including Skype), Google (YouTube), Facebook, Yahoo, and PalTalk have in common? Well they all participate knowingly in one rather invasive program run by the NSA under the guise of National Security. The program called PRISM was started in 2007 in the last moths of the George W. Bush’s administration the program creates a cooperative system with the listed companies to allow the NSA to query systems for information. Ostensibly the program is intended to protect the US from foreign threats including terrorism, but it has such a wide license that it has already been shown to have captured data about US citizens. To make matters worse certain members of Congress knew about the project back in 2007 and even granted the DOJ the power to force companies to comply in 2008.
Microsoft earlier this year introduced the possibility of leaving a short video message via Skype. Interestingly, this functionality was only available on competing platforms - Mac, iOS and Android.
Skype has this year in his application for Mac OS X, iOS and Android implemented functionality that allows you to send video via chat message up to three minutes long, regardless of whether the recipient is currently online or offline. This possibility was marked as beta and came Restricted – you could send up to 20 messages, after which you had to pay Skype Premium subscription (5$ per month).