OUYA devs confirm best-in-class performance, disappointing controller
The Android-based OUYA has a quadcore Tegra 3 processor, 1 GB of DDR3 RAM, and 8 GB of onboard flash storage. It will support Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11 b/g/n protocols. It has a maximum resolution output of 1080p.
If you’ve been watching The Little Android Box That Could with interest, you’ve likely heard these words and numbers. What you might not know, regardless of how closely you’ve been following the OUYA, is what these specs mean in a real-world environment. The Report spoke to two OUYA developers to help.
Step by step, easing in
At the end of December, we posted a link in The Cut which led to a YouTube video of a developer running through the console’s interface. That developer is Jacob Ensign, project lead on Deadly Dungeons, a first-person dungeon crawler for Android devices, and the video which focuses on the interface isn’t his only one – there are two others, and you can see the first embedded below.
Ensign says he’s generally pleased. The OUYA won’t compete with the big boxes from Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo, and it can’t hold a candle to a suped-up gaming PC, but it’s also $100. We’re looking for value, not raw performance. Ensign also clarified that the OUYA’s Tegra 3 chip is the Tegra 3 T33.
The T33 is the highest spec’d version of the Tegra 3 family, which consists of just two other processors: the T30L and T30. These are all quad-core chips, and CNET ran an interesting article about what that does and doesn’t mean for performance.
Ensign said with the limited amount of time and programs he’s run to benchmark the OUYA’s performance, he’s experienced a capability comparable to the Nexus 10, which is very good news. The OUYA can keep up with the best of the current generation of Android devices, which is impressive for a $100 device. You can argue about which Android device is best, and get lost in different benchmarks, but the OUYA is performing well above anything else in its price point, and compares favorably with devices that cost much more.
So what about that 1 GB of RAM? Isn’t that a bit small?
Not really. An Xbox 360 only has 512 MB of onboard RAM, while a PS3 breaks its RAM into two banks of 256 MB. The hows and whys of RAM and its use in consoles could fill a book, but raw numbers are at least partially indicative of performance. The fact that OUYA doubles the amount of RAM current generation console are using sounds encouraging, but there’s a caveat.
Every Android device up until the OUYA has been a multitasking device. You might use your tablet or phone primarily for games, but at its literal core, it’s programmed to do more than that. Android limits how much memory each application can use at a given time, with the rationale that most Android devices will be doing many things at once. Kamil Czajko of Kactus Games explained that a typical multitasking device with 1 GB of RAM may limit its Per App Max Memory to 24-48 MB.
The OUYA is unique in the Android world in that it is not a multitasking device, or at least not so intense a multitasking device as a phone or tablet. You turn it on, and play games. Czajko said he has yet to see if the limit has been reduced or removed entirely but, even if it hasn’t been, it’s a problem devs are used to circumventing.
“Devs normally get around this with OpenGL, since textures in graphics memory do not count to your per app limit even though they are part of the same pool. It’s still not a perfect solution though,” he told the Report. “Anything that takes focus, calls, popups, navigating to another app etc. has access to the same graphics memory, so for all intents and purposes, with a caveat for latest Android releases, your app can not rely on any of the memory allocated to still be useable if it loses focus even for a fraction of a second.”
“The biggest memory issue with Android is the implementation of Java’s Garbage Collection, since it kicks in much more often than on the desktop (probably due to the per app memory) which will cause framerate stutter. It now runs on its own thread but in older versions it would pause your application for 200-800ms. Avoiding GC is one of the main ways of increasing speed and sadly that means that many of the useful Java utility functions should be avoided in the main game loops. You are better off allocating memory once and not using it fully, but updating the information inside, then freeing memory and recreating it again and again.”
What about the controller and hardware?
So we know what’s on the inside of our indie-friendly micro-console, what about the outside? I asked Ensign and Czajko to give their thoughts on the feeling of the controller and the system.
“Surprisingly for an open, modifiable console, the screws are not easy to remove; they have those fancy near round sunken heads that you need a special tool to open,” Czajko said. “Leaving it running for a few hours does get the fan spinning, loud enough that I can hear it above my PC, which granted I built to be super quiet. I suspect it will collect dust. I would prefer it to lose the Ethernet port and add an additional USB port, or add an SD, eSATA port, etc.”
Ensign told me the controller was comfortable to hold, and the basics were in place, but the functionality was somewhat lacking. “The analog stick, D-pad, and buttons all seem to work well and are of a similar quality as other consoles,” he said. “The trackpad seems fairly poor and would likely not be usable for most games. The left and right digital triggers are poorly placed and may be uncomfortable for some people. The analog triggers seem sturdy, but they make sounds when you press them down, [you can hear the] spring and scraping plastic.
Czajko concurred. “Getting the battery in and out is a bit of a pain and I would have preferred rechargeables. Select and start will be missed, and the current behavior of the OUYA button is to dump you back to the home screen; hopefully that can be reconfigured.”
“The touch pad is a disappointment so far on several fronts, it needs a bevel for a start since you can move your finger off it and there is no tactile feedback. It currently acts like a mouse: stroke, lift, stroke again to move across the screen and keeps internal coordinates with acceleration,” Czajko explained. “Not sure if this can be changed to map to the screen as that part of the developer documentation isn’t available yet. It does pass hover coordinates though so we should still be able to have gestures for spells, just not necessarily pinpoint placement as you’d get on a touchscreen.”
Keep in mind this is an early version of the controller, and may be improved for the final release. On the other hand, maybe you’d like to use another controller for your games?
I asked Ensign and Czajko if they had tested any other controllers with the device. Ensign said he had successfully paired a Logitech Dual Action Gamepad to the OUYA, while Czajko tried a TI Defender and X-Arcade controller to no avail. Czajko had some success with a USB Xbox 360 controller, though neither the triggers nor right thumbstick were working - he suspects a fixable bug.
The OUYA also successfully recognized Bluetooth compatible products as well as USB mice and keyboards, though only with partial success. Czajko said his OUYA was able to discover an Xbox 360 Bluetooth headset, though it gave an incorrect PIN error, and only basic USB keyboards seem to work. “One of the people in the dev forums stated that his cheap USB keyboard worked just not his fancy ones, so I tried a Logitech Internet 350 and that seemed to work fine, both in the browser and the game,” he told me.
So will you be able to use your favorite USB controller with an OUYA? It’s possible, but developers may have to spend some time adding support for their favorite devices.
So should you be excited?
Both Ensign and Czajko are planning to develop for the OUYA and, despite some hiccups, both seem relatively pleased with the system. OUYA’s success or failure will likely hinge on development support and consumer interest; hardware-wise it’s hardly cutting edge. The OUYA is built like a mobile device, and that is a market that moves very quickly; we shouldn’t expect the sort of generation life time we’re used to from more robust consoles.
On the flip side, it’s looking more and more like OUYA performs near the top of the heap when it comes to current-generation Android devices. That’s very impressive for a $100 device, and if the console proves to be a success there may be more powerful versions of the hardware coming in the future. For now, in terms of hardware and performance, you will more than get your money’s worth. Now it’s up to developers to give you games worth playing, and to support your favorite devices.