Google Meet gets in-meeting reactions, PiP, end-to-end encryption and more

Google announced a major update to Google Meet today that includes a number of long-requested features and plenty that you didn’t even know you needed. There is a long list here, but the main additions are likely in-meeting reactions to give immediate updates to the Meet companion mode, emoji-based feedback, the ability to use Meet right inside of Docs, Sheets and Slides, as well as a new picture-in-picture mode so you can more easily ignore a meeting and the ability to stream a meeting to YouTube.

Security is another highlight of today’s announcement. Starting in May, Google is rolling out client-side encryption in Meet, which is currently still in beta. With this, users have full control over the encryption keys and the identity provider used to access those keys. Later this year, Google will also introduce option end-to-end encryption for all meetings. Currently, all Meet data is encrypted in transit.

Image Credits: Google

“Since 2020, it’s become increasingly clear that human connection is crucial,” said Dave Citron, Google’s director of product management for Google Meet and Voice in a press briefing ahead of today’s announcement. “We know we need solutions that help people build connections that can bridge the gap between physical spaces and the somewhere else.”

He noted that a lot of these updates today focus on “collaboration equity,” that is, the ability to contribute to meetings regardless of location, role, experience level, language and device preference. One example for this is companion mode, which launched earlier this year and allows users to join a video meeting on a second screen. Now, Google is updating this with personal video tiles for every participant in a hybrid meeting, even if they are in a conference room with other participants. “This update will work towards making those in physical space have the same experience as those who are working remotely,” Citron explained.

Image Credits: Google

Like too many features Google announces these days, these updates will roll out “later this year.” This also means you’ll have to wait until next month to regale your co-workers with emojis during a meeting to “help teams celebrate wins, offer support and share the love,” as a Google spokesperson called it.

Picture-in-picture mode will also roll out next month, while automatic noise cancellation on Google Meet hardware is now rolling out to all users on Meet-enabled Logitech, Acer and Asus hardware.

The ability to stream to YouTube, which most companies will probably use for webinars and similar outward-facing meetings, is coming later this year.

Google also today announced a couple of updates to Spaces, but you’re probably using Slack, so you can find more information about those here.

Image Credits: Google


REvil hacker accused of Kaseya ransomware attack arrested and extradited to the US

An alleged key member of the REvil ransomware group, who federal authorities say is responsible for the Kaseya hack that encrypted thousands of its customers’ networks, has been arrested and extradited to Texas to face U.S. charges.

Ukrainian national Yaroslav Vasinskyi, 22, was arrested in Poland on October 8 and held until he was extradited and arraigned on Wednesday in a Dallas federal court to face accusations of computer hacking and fraud, according to an indictment filed in August but unsealed this week.

For a time, the REvil gang (also known as Sodinokibi) was one of the most active and prolific ransomware groups, encrypting the computers of victims in exchange for often hefty ransom demands. The Russian-speaking ransomware-as-a-service operation allows affiliates to rent access to their infrastructure in return for a cut of the profits. Since it first emerged, the group caused food production delays following the attack on meat processing plant JBS and leaked private information from companies like computer maker Acer and energy giant Invenergy,

But it was the attack on IT and network monitoring software company Kaseya that drew the most attention after the ransomware spread downstream to thousands of its customers’ networks, prompting the U.S. government to launch a $10 million bounty for information that would bring the hackers to justice.

Weeks after the Kaseya attack, the company obtained the universal decryption key to allow its customers to skirt millions of dollars worth of ransom payments to unlock their systems. According to the Washington Post, the FBI secretly obtained the key and was planning a takedown, which never happened, after the hackers vanished from the internet a short time after it was blamed for the Kaseya attack.

By October, the U.S. government said it was behind a multinational effort to force the gang offline, followed by arrests by Romanian and Russian law enforcement, which saw the group largely dismantled and millions of cash and cryptocurrency seized.

“Just eight months after committing his alleged ransomware attack on Kaseya from overseas, this defendant has arrived in a Dallas courtroom to face justice,” said U.S. deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco in a statement. “When we are attacked, we will work with our partners here and abroad to go after cybercriminals, wherever they may be.”

Vasinskyi is one of two alleged REvil members that have been charged by U.S. prosecutors in relation to the Kaseya attack, the second is Russian national Yevgeniy Polyanin, 28.

Vasinskyi faces over 100 years in jail if convicted.

Intel doubles down on hybrid chip architecture, unveils 28 new 12th-gen Intel Core mobile processors and 22 desktop processors

CES may be going ahead as a shortened, pared-down operation this year, but we’re still seeing a decent swathe of announcements prepared for the event still coming out into the wild, in particular among chipmakers who power the world’s computers. Intel has been a regular presence at the show and is continuing that with its run of news today, focusing on the newest, 12th generation of its mobile chip with versions aimed both at enterprises and consumers, alongside updates to its Evo computing platform concept, new 35- and 65-watt processors for desktop, and vPro platform launches.

With some of the lineup announced back in October (it has now dropped the Alder Lake naming that appeared still to be in use then) today’s news is arguably the biggest push that Intel has made in years to promote its processors and build for a range of use cases, ranging from consumers through to more intense gaming, through to enterprise applications and IoT deployments.  After what some described as a lacklustre 11th-generation launch, here Intel is unveiling no less than 28 new 12th-generation Intel Core mobile processors, and an addition 22 desktop processors.

Intel claims that the mobile processors are clocking in speeds of up to 40% faster than its previous generations

“Intel‘s new performance hybrid architecture is helping to accelerate the pace of innovation and the future of compute,” said Gregory Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of Intel’s Client Computing Group, in a statement. “We want to bring that idea of ubiquitous computing to life,” he added in a presentation today at CES.

The H-series of the 12th Gen Intel core mobile processors come in four main categories, i3, i5, i7, and i9. The i9-12900HK is the fastest of the range of eight and are one of the first from Intel to build performance and efficient cores together on the same chip to better handle heavy workloads. They come with frequencies of up to 5GHz, 14 cores (6 for performance, 8 for efficiency) and 20 threads for applications that are multi-threaded, and they also offer memory support for DDR5/LPDDR5 and DDR4/LPDDR4 modules up to 4800 MT/s. Intel says this is a first in the industry for H-series mobile processors.

They offer support for Deeplink for optimized power usage; Thunderbolt 4 for faster data transfers (up to 40 Gbps) and connectivity; and Intel’s new integrated WiFi 6E, which Intel dubs its “Killer” WiFi and will be available in nearly all laptops running Intel’s 12th generation chips. The interesting thing about this latest WiFi version is that it essentially optimizes for gameplay and other bandwidth-intensive activities: latency is created by putting the most powerful applications on channels separate from the rest of the applications on a device that might also be using bandwidth (these are relegated to lower bandwidth channels) that now essentially run in the background. Bands can also be merged intelligently by the system when more power for a specific application is needed. All this will be available from February 2022, Intel said.

H-series, it added, is now in full production, with Acer, Dell, Gigabyte, HP, Lenovo, MSi, and Razer among those building machines using it, some 100 designs in all covering both Windows and Chrome operating systems.

In terms of applications that Intel is highlighting for its chip use, in addition to enterprises and more casual consumers, it continues to focus on gaming. No surprise there, given the demands of the most advanced games and gamers today, which have become major drivers for improving compute power. To that end, Intel is making sure its chips are in that mix with the 12th-generation chip.

That has included both investing in gaming companies (such as Razer), as well as working closely with developers to optimize speeds on its processors. Intel said that work with Hitman 3, for example, so that its chips could support the audio and graphics processing in the game increased frame rates by up to 8%. 

“Tuning games to achieve maximum performance can be daunting,” says Maurizio de Pascale, chief technology officer at IO Interactive, in a statement. “But partnering with Intel and leveraging their decades of expertise has yielded fantastic results – especially optimizing for the powerful 12th Gen Intel Core processors. As an example, anyone who plays on a laptop

Content application remains another major part of the market for Intel, with customers building software and hardware optimized for its chips including Adobe, Autodesk, Foundry Blender, Dolby, Dassault, Magix and more. Indeed, the processor now sites at the centre of all of these as they live as digital activities. They also represent a large number of verticals that Intel can target, including product designers, engineers, broadcasting and streaming, architects, creators, scientific visualization.

The 22 new processors getting unveiled are coming in both 65 watt and 35 watt varieties. Alongside the higher wattage (and thus higher energy consuming) chip, Intel also launched a new Laminar cooler.

Another strand of Intel’s work over the last several years has been to approach the specifications of computers running its chips in a more holistic way to integrate what it is building with where it can be put to use, by way of its Evo platform and Project Athena. Intel said that there are not more than 100 co-engineered designs using the 12th-generation chips based on these, ranging from foldable displays to more standard laptops, with many of them launching during the first half of this year.

Evo specifications already cover responsiveness, battery life, instant wake, and fast charge, and Intel said that a new addition to that range will be a new parameter, “intelligent collaboration”, which will be focused on how many of us are using computers today, for remote collaboration, videoconferencing and the features that make it better such as AI-based noise cancellation, better WiFi usage, and enhanced camera and other imaging effects. This will be likely where its $100-$150 million acquisition of screen mirroring tech provider Screenovate, which it confirmed in December, will fit.

At a time when Intel continues to face a lot of competition from the likes of AMD and Nvidia, and Apple makes yet more moves to distance itself from the company, continuing to move ahead and reinforce the partners that it does have, and build an ecosystem around that, is the strategy that the company will continue to pursue, as long as it keeps up its end of the innovation bargain.

“Microsoft and Intel have a long history of partnering together to deliver incredible performance and seamless experiences to people all over the world,” said Panos Panay, chief product officer at Microsoft, in a statement. “Whether playing the latest AAA title, encoding 8K video or developing complex geological models, the combination of Windows 11 and the new 12th-gen Intel Core mobile processors means you’re getting a powerhouse experience.”

Read more about CES 2022 on TechCrunch

Google launches new AI-powered meeting room hardware

Google today announced the Google Meet Series One, a new video conferencing hardware suite for meeting rooms. Built in collaboration with Lenovo, the Series One uses high-end cameras and microphones and then marries them with Google’s AI smarts thanks to using Google’s own Coral M.2 accelerator modules with the company’s Edge TPUs.

Previous Google Meet hardware efforts from companies like ASUS, Acer and Logitech were generally built around a Chromebox. This new effort uses a custom-built compute system at its core and combines that with an almost Google Nest-like tablet-sized screen, a soundbar with eight built-in microphones, additional microphone pods and one of two cameras.

Image Credits: Google

The cameras are maybe the most interesting option here, with the Smart Camera XL features a 20.3-megapixel sensor and 4.3x optical zoom. Thanks to these specs, it can be used as a digital PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) camera. With that, the system can always automatically zoom in to frame everybody in the room and when the next person joins, it can zoom and pan as necessary to make sure everybody is still visible.

The regular Smart Camera can still do most of this, but it doesn’t feature the optical zoom, making it a better solution for smaller rooms. Google partnered with Huddly to develop this camera system (and the two companies also collaborated on previous Meet hardware projects).

But Google also put a lot of effort into the audio system. With its eight beam-forming microphones built into the soundbar and advanced noise cancellation techniques running on Google’s AI chips, the system should be able to filter out most distractions. Companies can add additional soundbars that only feature the speakers and microphones without the AI chips to cover even larger rooms. These additional units only feature the speakers and microphones, without the additional AI hardware since all of the processing needs to be done centrally.

Image Credits: Google

One nice touch here is that the team also made it easy to install these systems thanks to using Power-over-Ethernet. That should make installing one of these systems in a conference room pretty easy.

Since this is Google, it’s probably no surprise that you can also use the Google Assistant on this system, providing you with hands-free control over the room (something that’s maybe more important today than ever before).

The smallest room kit, with the basic Smart Camera but without the tablet-style meeting controller and microphone pod, will retail for $2,699. For $2,999 you get a complete set with one standard camera, soundbar, microphone pod and controller and if you have a very large room, you can opt for the $3,999 version with the additional soundbar, two microphone pods and the Smart Camera XL.

Acer’s ConceptD 9 is part laptop, part graphics tablet

When it comes to competing for the hearts and minds of creatives pros, some (see: Huawei) attempt to beat Apple at its own game. Others go an entirely different route. Acer’s ConceptD 9 falls firmly in the latter camp.

More so that the rest of the line announced at an event today in Brooklyn, the 9 lives up to the “concept” part of the product name, with a unique swiveling tablet display that works as a sort of easel with Wacom pen support.

With countless hybrid devices having flood the market in recent years, the ConceptD9 is among the more unique, eschewing the kind of Surface form factor most of these companies go in for.

Nabbing marketshare from Apple is a tough ask when it comes to the company’s core of creative pros, but recent design decisions have left the company more vulnerable. Acer’s never been the first name one thinks of in the category, but the product offers some of the same drawing/3D design functionality Microsoft has featured in its much larger Surface Studio all-in-one.

The hybrid launches in June, sporting a hefty $4,999 price tag. It’s a novel approach to the category, but the company may have already priced itself out

Acer’s launches new high-end gaming laptops with Nvidia RTX 2080 GPUs

Acer today announced two new gaming laptops at CES, the 17-inch $4,000 Predator Triton 900 with a convertible 4K display and the somewhat more affordable all-metal 15-inch $1,800 Triton 500. What sets these laptops apart is, among a few other interesting features and some interesting design choices, support for Nvidia’s new(ish) RTX 2080 GPUs, the most powerful graphics processors on the market today.

The Triton 900 features the RTX 2080 by default, while you’ll have to shell out an extra $700 to get it on the Triton 500. Otherwise, the specs are very much what you’d expect from a modern gaming laptop, with 8th generation Intel i7 chips, 16GB of base memory (with the option of going up to 32GB) and up to a terabyte of NVMe-based storage.

The Triton 900’s flipping screen is a bit of a gimmick, but it doesn’t look bad and the company argues that it’ll allow for “multiple gaming scenarios and better ergonomics.” I’m not sure ergonomics is top of mind for most gamers who are willing to shell out $4,000 for a laptop, but it can’t hurt either. The 4K display is a touchscreen, too, which could make it interesting as a more high-end portable workstation for creative work. If you’re a gamer, though, you’ll likely be more excited about the built-in Xbox wireless receiver and audio by Waves, which offers head tracking to provide you a more realistic 3D audio experience

Unsurprisingly, the Triton 500 is the more “sensible” option here, with a more palatable starting price, slim design (it’s 0.7 inches thick and weighs in at 4.6 lbs) and the promise of eight hours of battery life. You only get a full HD display, though, with even the base model comes with an RTX 2060 card, which is no slouch either and should easily be able to let you play and modern game at its maximum graphics settings in HD.