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The big pension bait and switch

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Local officials, particularly those in California’s 400-plus cities, have been complaining loudly in recent years about pension costs, raising the specter of insolvency if they continue their rapid increase.

Last year, the League of California Cities issued a report declaring that “pension costs will dramatically increase to unsustainable levels.”

The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) confirms that projection in a new report.

The report reveals that mandatory “employer contributions,” including those from the state and school districts, as well as local governments, rose from $12 billion in 2016-17 to $20 billion a year later.

It also warns that the payments will continue to rise well into the next decade as the giant trust fund tries to recover from dramatic investment losses in the Great Recession, adjusts to lower earnings projections and handles a surge of baby boomer generation retirees claiming benefits.

“The greatest risk to the system continues to be the ability of employers to make their required contributions,” the new report declares, adding, “It is difficult to assess just how much strain current contribution levels are putting on employers. However, evidence such as collections activities, requests for extensions to amortization schedules and information regarding termination procedures indicate that some public agencies are under significant strain.”

Pension costs for “safety employees,” police officers and firefighters mostly, are rising especially fast. They now average about 50% of payroll and are projected in the new report to top 55% by the mid-2020s. A few cities are already nearing or reaching 100%.

However, as much as they complain about CalPERS forever dunning them, California’s local officials are largely unwilling to directly ask their voters for more taxes to pay pension bills.

Hundreds of local tax increase measures were placed on the ballot last year and hundreds more are likely to be proposed next year, but almost universally they are billed as improving popular local services, such as “public safety” or parks.

It’s where the concept of “fungibility” kicks in. If a city’s voters can be persuaded to raise their taxes for parks and recreation, for example, it effectively frees up more money to pay its pension bills without acknowledging that motive.

We saw a wonderful example of fungibility last year in Sacramento, where voters were persuaded to raise local sales taxes on the promise of civic improvements by an amount that closely matched increases in the city’s obligations to CalPERS.

We may be seeing another in Oakland next year.

The Oakland City Council is placing a “parcel tax” — a form of property tax — on the March ballot to improve parks, recreational and homeless services and stormwater drainage. The tax, $148 annually per real estate parcel, would generate an estimated $20 million a year.

As it happens, however, the most recent CalPERS report on Oakland’s pension obligations reveals that they will increase from $194 million in 2020-21 to $226 million by 2025-26, which would more than consume the revenue from the parcel tax.

So why don’t city officials just own up and publicly acknowledge that pension costs are driving their budgets into red ink and ask voters for more tax money to cover them?

They — and the unions that finance tax increase campaigns — clearly fear that being candid would backfire. If voters knew they would be paying more taxes to support pension benefits for city workers that are probably much better than they have themselves, they might refuse to go along.

Bait and switch is more politically expedient.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary



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freeAgent
10 hours ago
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Los Angeles, CA
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Zucman’s Statistical Sleight of Hand, by David Henderson

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While researching my recent article “The Assault on Wealth,” I found something interesting from University of California, Berkeley economics professor Gabriel Zucman that I didn’t have room for in my 2,000 word article.

Zucman had tweeted that the 20 richest individuals in America donated 0.8 percent of their wealth in 2018. That compares to 0.33 percent of wealth for Americans who itemized. So kind of impressive on the part of the wealthy, right?

Wrong, says Zucman, because if you take away the two biggest givers, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the percentage falls to 0.3 percent. (Actually, it falls to 0.315 percent, but he’s rounding to one decimal place for them but not for Americans who itemize.) So that’s below the number for Americans who itemize.

There’s something to the methodology; we often throw out outliers. But typically we throw out outliers on both ends. So to be consistent, Zucman should have thrown out the 2 smallest givers. There was a tie between 3: Larry Ellison, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin. Each gave $25 million, which, as a percent of their wealth, was 0.0 percent. So to bias it in favor of Zucman’s point, let’s throw out the two of those three who had the least wealth: Page and Brin. [Ellison was only slightly wealthier, and so it really doesn’t matter which 2 we use.]

Then we get a different result. The total wealth of the 16 rich people is $780.9 billion and the total giving is $2.748 billion. That means that throwing out the outliers leads to the conclusion that they gave 0.35 percent of their wealth, which is above, not below, the percent for Americans who itemize.

So Zucman uses a statistical sleight of hand to make his point. Not good.

Moreover, there’s a huge economic problem with his data. He compares charitable giving for itemizers in 2017 with charitable giving by the wealthy in 2018. What’s wrong with that? Four words: the 2017 tax reform. One of the major reforms was to raise the standard deduction substantially, which caused many people who had been itemizers not to itemize. Many of them, I suspect, did what I did. In December 2017, knowing that the bill had become a law, I looked at every charity I typically donated to near the end of the year and roughly doubled my donation for the year so that I could get the full charitable deduction one last time. To the extent that many people did that, the 0.33 percent for us substantially overstates the “steady state” charitable giving. Which means that the wealthy’s contributions, as a percent of wealth, are substantially higher than ours.

By the way, I’m taking as given that higher donations are better. I’m not sure they are, especially for the wealthy. I’m glad that Gates is taking his wealth and helping poor people in Africa. That’s wonderful. He and his wife, Melinda, are impressive people. But am I glad that some of the others are taking wealth out of productive activities and donating it to universities that name buildings after them? I am not.

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freeAgent
10 hours ago
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I believe many charitable trusts were established in 2017 as well.
Los Angeles, CA
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News: Bitcoin trading near-dead, MooCowMoo does a Dash, Lightning Network, CBDCs are a bluff, Keybase alienates users

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The Bitcoin narratives aren’t working. The Bitcoin trading economy is all but dead — “The market has been seeking bitcoin’s next big catalyst for two years … the sobering reality that creating new global monetary standards requires more than computer code.”

But don’t worry — institutional investors will definitely parachute in and save the price! … oh. Crypto “hedge funds” are closing down — because they were some bozo with pretensions and a large holding, who made money while the bubble was going up — while institutions sit this one out, thanks.

(I don’t expect the “institutional over-the counter traders” narrative to stop for a moment.)

Mike McGlone from Bloomberg Intelligence brings us more narratives — if Bitcoin drops to $6500, that’s actually good news for 2020. Makes it more like gold, y’see. Also, Tether’s legal troubles are really good news for Bitcoin too. up uP UP!!

Larry Cermak: “Everyone is freaking out that billions of dollars in BTC is being moved but in reality, it’s the same address constantly moving the same stash.” Likely explanations include this being an attempt to fake daily trading volume — there is no metric in crypto that someone won’t try to rig for the sake of narrative.

In the meantime, the barts continue.

 

 

Dash senior advisor “MooCowMoo” does a dash with the Dash — MooCowMoo ran a Masternode Shares service, masternode.me, and had advised users on 10 August that he was shutting down … but didn’t quite get around to the bit where he gave people’s Dash coins back.

Fernando Gutierrez from Dash was quick to state (archive) that “Moocowmoo was never hired by DCG and left the project years ago” — and never mind the current dash.org pages calling MooCowMoo a Dash Core Team member and linking his GitHub, or recommending masternode.me.

I must say, I was sorely disappointed to hear such disconcerting news about esteemed senior financial adviser … (checks notes) … ah, “Moo Cow Moo.”

Fortunately, after the story appeared on Bitcoinist on 2 December, someone reported on Reddit that MooCowMoo finally started returning the Dash. The poster blames a Dash “hater” for daring to tell people about the problem at all.

Investors will get an extra hour in the Dashcoin ball pit.

Masternode.me is, today, still telling people to sign up, and send in their Dash.

Apparently, my blog is news central for dumb crypto scams now:

 

 

Bitfinex goes Lightning Network! This is, yet again,  Bitcoin reinventing the financial system from first principles, badly — in this case, moving from real-time gross settlement and push payments, to deferred net settlements and pull payments. Just like real banking! Except worse — the Lightning system is massively dependent on credit, drains liquidity, deters consumers by its dependence on pre-funding, suffers from having no compulsory clearing cycle, and doesn’t pay those taking risks to provide liquidity well enough at all. Bitcoiners who are LARPing at doing finance could do with reading this article.

There’s a new research paper, A Cryptoeconomic Traffic Analysis of Bitcoin’s Lightning Network — Lightning is “economically irrational”, “payment fees will rise significantly”, and “payments are easily de-anonymizable” “even if transactions are onion routed.” None of which should be news to anyone who isn’t trying to use Lightning as part of a Bitcoin “number go up” narrative.

There is now a Lightning Network ATM! In keeping with the status of the Lightning Network project, it’s made of cardboard. I’m sure this will be fixed in eighteen months.

 

 

Bitcoin is green, actually, as we see in the Wyoming “blockchain rush” — where a miner is trying to buy an obsolete coal-fired power plant.

Canadian crypto miner Great North Data has filed for bankruptcy. Creditors include the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and the Business Investment Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador, i.e., the taxpayer.

Great North Data was also sued by Bitmain in 2017 — after Bitmain shipped AntMiner hardware to Great North Data to run at their facility, Great North Data asked Bitmain to create an invoice to transfer ownership of the miners to them for import duty and tax purposes. Great North Data didn’t pay for the miners, and then claimed they owned the miners based on the invoice.

 

 

The central banks’ talk of launching Central Bank Digital Currencies is all bluff — “ECB insiders say it has no laboratory working on a digital euro and little intention to create one any time soon. Most of these comments seem designed to jolt the private sector banks into improving the inefficient, costly and time-consuming world of cross-border payments.”

The European Central Bank states this pretty directly in last week’s note Innovation and its impact on the European retail payment landscape — they want better consumer payments, they have no plans to allow Libra-like private stablecoins, and they’re waving around the threat of a CBDC euro if the commercial banks don’t do better at payments.

The US sees no need for a CBDC dollar at present — and Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin is fine with Facebook doing Libra as long as it’s fully compliant with anti-money-laundering rules, and has had a dozen meetings with Facebook about this.

I didn’t see this one at the time — Jameson Lopp’s analysis of the Libra technical white paper, from June. He describes what Libra’s vague plans meant in Bitcoin terms, and what they implied for Libra’s intended governance.

 

 

The Leibowitz class action against Bitfinex and Tether for manipulating the price of Bitcoin proceeds. Roche Freedman have succeeded in serving notice of the action upon Phil Potter, have a default against Reggie Fowler, and the lawyers for Ludovicus Jan van der Velde and Giancarlo Devasini have refused to accept service on their behalf — claiming they don’t know where to find their own clients. Tether, Global Trade Solutions and Crypto Capital Corp are also proving difficult to serve.

The SEC, in its case against Telegram, has asked the US court to request deposition of UK resident and citizen John Hyman — the SEC asked Hyman nicely, but he refused. This international request is under the Hague Evidence Convention — in the same manner as in Kleiman v. Wright. Only the request letter is visible on the public docket — but Anna Baydakova from CoinDesk has analysed the letter and documents for us.

Did you hear how Softbank — the giant Japanese tech investor, most famous for massively overfunding WeWork and Uber — is getting into crypto? A press release on the SBC Wallet Card (archive) was reprinted by large swathes of the crypto press. The only problem is — the press release was fake. Anthony Peyton was literally the only person to bother checking with Softbank, who confirmed it was nothing to do with them.

Keybase is a company running a key directory — it maps cryptographic keys to social media identities. It was very popular with security, cryptography and open-source software professionals. Then they took money from Andreesen Horowitz — thus mandating growth at all costs. Then they took money from Stellar. Then they airdropped Stellar on their user base — and now the crypto spammers are making Keybase unusable. And Keybase considers the spam a feature. And the old users are leaving Keybase to the crypto spammers.

 

 

The New Economy, New City panel for Intelligence Squared on Thursday went well, and was lots of fun! I argued what I always argue — that “blockchain” for enterprise is snake oil and nonsense, and at best superfluous. But maybe you can use it for marketing. No video or audio, sadly, but there were some photos (below).

One proponent tried putting forward the UK government welfare trial — mentioned in chapter 11 of Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain — as a blockchain success story. This was the one that failed so hard, that even the government that thought Universal Credit was a functional idea thought the blockchain attempt was no good. Apparently, they should have blockchained harder.

Never believe any blockchain success story, until you’ve investigated it yourself — and particularly don’t believe any blockchain success story without enough details for you to check on it.

 

 

 

I did Michael Nye’s What Is Crypto podcast a few weeks ago, and it’s up! Not on the main site as yet, but here’s the SoundCloud.

 

 

 



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freeAgent
10 hours ago
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Cryptocurrency would be great if it weren't awash in criminals and other unsavory behavior.
Los Angeles, CA
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Everyman Sundar Pichai Picks Up Side Job as CEO of Alphabet

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Like many Americans struggling just to stay afloat through stagnant wages in an uncertain economy, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced today that he’s doing what so many of us have: getting a second job.

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freeAgent
4 days ago
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Honestly, the entire creation of Alphabet was so Larry and Sergey could ostensibly remain in low-effort management roles while handing the hard work off to Pichai. Now that they've decided to fully check out, what is the justification for Alphabet's existence?
Los Angeles, CA
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Capture One 20 now officially released. Here are the new features!

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Phase One has officially launched the new Capture One 20 software! Learn what’s new in Capture One 20 at this page: www.captureone.com/20. Here is a quick roundup of the new features:   Noise Reduction Improved noise reduction, start your editing…

The post Capture One 20 now officially released. Here are the new features! appeared first on sonyalpharumors.

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freeAgent
4 days ago
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I was very confused when I read this, since the previous version of Capture One Pro was Capture One Pro 12. I thought this must be a new product, but no. They just skipped versions 13-19.
Los Angeles, CA
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Qualcomm's new 865 chipset supports 8K video, 4K HDR, no-limit 960fps capture and more

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Qualcomm has introduced the Snapdragon 865 Mobile Platform, its latest chipset that pushes the limits of mobile processing in a device that’s small enough to fit on the face of a penny.

In addition to support for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 4G/5G modem, the chipset also brings a number of improvements in the imaging department thanks to its Kryo 585 octa-core CPU, Adreno 650 GPU and Spectra 480 Image Signal Processor (ISP).

Unlike previous chipsets, which could only hand one pixel per clock cycle, the Snapdragon 865 can handle four pixels per clock cycle. In addition to power savings and running cooler, this increase enables exciting new features on the photo and video front.

Specifically, the Snapdragon 865 can handle up to two gigapixels of data per second thanks in part to its dual 14-bit ISPs. This means the Snapdragon 865 will be able to handle up to 200-megapixel captures, as well as dual 64-megapixel camera captures with zero shutter lag and HEIC photo capture. It can also apply multi-frame noise reduction on the fly, as well as provide real-time object classification, segmentation and replacement in images thanks to its 5th generation Qualcomm AI Engine. This new technology will make it possible to ‘quickly and intelligently identify different backgrounds, people, and objects, so they can be treated individually for a truly customized photo,’ according to Qualcomm.

The Snapdragon 865 chipset is also a major boost for mobile video. In addition to 8K video capture, the chipset can also handle 4K HDR (HDR10+, HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision), 4K video at 120fps and 4K video capture while simultaneously capturing a burst of five 640-megapixel photos. This makes it the first chipset that captures Dobly Vision video on the fly and in addition to capturing 120fps video, the chipset can also playback 120fps video in realtime when paired with a 120Hz display, such as those found inside the Razer Phone, Razer Phone 2, Sharp Aquos R3 and Asus ROG Phone II smartphones.

Qualcomm has addressed high-speed capture as well. The Snapdragon 865 can capture 720p video at 960fps without limits. 720p video at 960fps is nothing new, as the Sony Xperia XZ and over a dozen of other smartphones from Sony, Samsung, Huawei, Sony and Xiaomi can attest to, but current devices are limited to capturing just a few seconds at a time. When paired with the proper hardware, the Snapdragon 865 chipset will be able to record 960fps video indefinitely; or at least until you run out of storage.

Below is Qualcomm's day two livestream of its Snapdragon Tech Summit in Maui:

Qualcomm says flagship devices based on the Snapdragon 865 are expected to be available in the first quarter of 2020. So far HMD, Motorola, Oppo and Xiaomi have confirmed they have devices on the way based on the Snapdragon 865 chipset.

Press release:

Qualcomm Introduces the World’s Most Advanced 5G Mobile Platform

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Mobile Platform Delivers the Best 5G Mobile Experiences for Next Generation Flagship Devices—Devices Expected to be Commercially Available in First Quarter 2020

MAUI, HAWAII — December 4, 2019 — Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., a subsidiary of Qualcomm Incorporated, introduced the Qualcomm® SnapdragonTM 865 Mobile Platform, which combines the world’s most advanced 5G Modem-RF System with the world’s most advanced mobile platform designed to deliver the unmatched connectivity and performance required for the next generation of flagship devices.

The platform’s best-in-class Qualcomm® SnapdragonTM X55 5G Modem-RF System provides peak speeds of up to 7.5 Gbps, surpassing most wired connections and transforming the mobile experience. The leading 5th generation Qualcomm® AI Engine and new Qualcomm® Sensing Hub provides more intelligence and personalization than ever before. Snapdragon 865 includes the blazing fast Qualcomm SpectraTM 480 Image Signal Processor (ISP), which brings new features to mobile photography and videography thanks to gigapixel speeds – up to 2 gigapixels per second. Gamers can use Snapdragon to compete at the highest levels with an array of brand-new Qualcomm® Snapdragon Elite GamingTM features for desktop-quality gaming and ultra-realistic graphics. Our next-generation Qualcomm® KryoTM 585 CPU delivers up to 25% performance improvement, and the new Qualcomm® AdrenoTM 650 GPU offers up to 25% overall performance boost compared to the previous generations, ensuring superior processing power for the next generation of flagship devices. The Snapdragon 865 empowers you to game, capture, cross-task and connect like never before.

“Snapdragon 865 supports the world’s most advanced 5G connectivity and features, raising the bar for what a mobile device should be,” said Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager, mobile, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. “It’s the culmination of Qualcomm’s more than 30 years of wireless leadership and innovation.”

Benefits of the Snapdragon 865 include:

  • The World’s Most Advanced 5G Mobile Platform: The Snapdragon 865 is the most advanced 5G mobile platform—ever. Its Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF System is the world’s first commercial modem-to-antenna 5G solution for consistent, lightning-fast speeds across the board—with peak speeds of up to 7.5 Gbps. The comprehensive Modem-RF System-approach allows advanced technologies such as Qualcomm® 5G PowerSave, Qualcomm® Smart TransmitTM technology, Qualcomm® Wideband Envelope Tracking technology and Qualcomm® Signal Boost to help deliver superior coverage and data speeds along with support for all-day battery life. This 5G global solution supports all key regions and bands including mmWave and sub-6 in both TDD and FDD frequencies. Plus, it’s compatible with both NSA and SA modes along with Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), global 5G roaming and support for multi-SIM. In addition to 5G connectivity, the Snapdragon 865 is redefining Wi-Fi 6 performance and Bluetooth audio experiences via the Qualcomm® FastConnectTM 6800 mobile connectivity subsystem. Extensive Wi-Fi 6 feature innovation helps users take advantage of incredible speed (approaching 1.8 Gbps) and latency, especially in crowded environments with many devices contending on a network. FastConnect 6800 is also among the first to be designated Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 by the Wi-Fi Alliance. The introduction of Qualcomm® aptXTM Voice makes Snapdragon 865 the first mobile platform to wirelessly support Super Wide Band (SWB) voice over Bluetooth for a new class of crystal clear audio, in addition to aptX Adaptive and Qualcomm TrueWirelessTM Stereo Plus, thereby reducing latency, increasing battery life and improving link resilience for wireless headphones and earbuds.
  • Gigapixel Speed ISP: The Snapdragon 865’s ISP operates at staggering speeds of up to 2 gigapixels per second and provides brand-new camera features and capabilities. You can capture in 4K HDR with over a billion shades of color, capture 8K video, or snap massive 200-megapixel photos. You can also take advantage of the gigapixel speeds to slow things down and capture every millisecond of detail with unlimited* high-definition slow-motion video capture at 960 fps. And now, for the first time ever on mobile, Dolby Vision video capture creates brilliant HDR footage that’s primed and ready for the big screen. In tandem with the 5th generation Qualcomm AI Engine, the gigapixel speed ISP can quickly and intelligently identify different backgrounds, people, and objects, so they can be treated individually for a truly customized photo
  • 5th Generation Qualcomm AI Engine: The new 5th generation Qualcomm AI Engine and new AI software tools pack incredible performance for the latest camera, audio, and gaming experiences. It delivers a whopping 15 TOPS of AI performance, which is 2x more powerful than its predecessor. At the heart of the Qualcomm AI Engine is a new and improved Qualcomm® HexagonTM Tensor Accelerator that has 4x the TOPS performance of the previous Tensor Accelerator while operating at 35% greater power efficiency. Then, there’s real-time translations using AI—your phone can translate your speech into a foreign language in both text and speech. In addition to the Qualcomm AI Engine, the all-new Qualcomm Sensing Hub enables your device to be contextually aware of its surroundings– using extremely low power. Highly accurate voice detection ensures your requests are heard loud and clear by your favorite voice assistant, while enhanced always-on sensors and intelligent sound recognition brings contextual AI to the next level. An updated Qualcomm® Neural Processing SDK, Hexagon NN Direct and Qualcomm® AI Model Enhancer tools gives developers ultimate freedom and flexibility to create faster and smarter apps.
  • Desktop-quality Gaming: Snapdragon 865 unlocks brand new and first-to-mobile premium features to deliver ultra-smooth gaming experiences with the highest graphics quality in the next generation of Snapdragon Elite Gaming. Snapdragon 865 is the first mobile platform on Android to support Desktop Forward Rendering allowing game developers to bring over desktop quality lighting and post processing effects creating a new level of realism for mobile games. With a first-to-mobile feature, Adreno Updateable GPU Drivers can be downloaded directly from an app store when made available by OEMs, which allows players to have control over their graphics driver updates and GPU settings for their top games to achieve premium performance. An upper echelon of display and visual fidelity for mobile HDR gaming is here with 144Hz display refresh rate available for the first time on mobile and Game Color Plus to enrich game image quality with enhanced details, boosted color saturation and local tone mapping. Game play is now optimized to the micro-second level with the Snapdragon Game Performance Engine, providing adaptive and predictive real-time system tuning for sustained performance over longer periods of time. The new Adreno 650 GPU offers new hardware embedded features like Adreno HDR Fast Blend to boost game scenes with heavy blending, often used in complex particle systems and rendering, to deliver up to 2x performance lift for certain operations.

Devices based on Snapdragon 865 are expected to be commercially available in the first quarter of 2020. For more information, please visit [link]. Livestream replays will also be available Snapdragon Tech Summit Event Hub.

Battery life and storage varies significantly based on device, settings, usage, and other factors.

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freeAgent
4 days ago
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I am very excited to see phones built around this SoC.
Los Angeles, CA
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