Interviews

Q&A With Daniel Charbit Of Dell: Shiny Tech, Alienware And The Future Of VR

daniel-charbitt
Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Daniel Charbit, UK consumer brand & category merchandising manager at Dell

By the time this Q&A gets published you’ll be on the floor of PC Gamer Weekender! Feeling excited? Will you be very busy across the weekend?

I’m really excited! PC Gamer Weekender is a fantastic event and I can’t wait to check out all the products and games on show. I’ll be busy talking to media and fans alike about our gaming range, but I’m also keen to attend some developer sessions and check out the new games on show.

Outside of your own products, what are you personally looking forward to getting to check out at the show, assuming you get the time?

Touched on above. Our own Dell gaming booth will feature HTC Vive headsets running on Alienware Aurora desktops. I definitely plan on spending as much time as possible there to try out the newest VR games available.

A while back Dell officially took over Alienware. Since then you’ve carefully kept Alienware separate from the rest of Dell. How important do you think it has been to create that clear divide between the two?

We have always been keen to maintain the identity of Alienware because we know how strong the affiliation is between gamers and the brand. When you buy an Alienware system it’s an exclusive community you join, and the experience of buying a system creates a deep and long-term relationship between the product and the customer. We’ve always wanted this connection to endure and maintaining Alienware’s distinctive identity is part of how we do this.

We are starting to see a bit of crossover now, though, with things like the Dell Inspiron sporting some hefty specs and coming under the dedicated gaming section of Dell’s website. For people shopping for a new gaming rig, what’s the difference between Dell’s gaming offerings and Alienware’s sleek machines?
Alienware products represent cutting-edge technology, commercial-grade build, durability, premium materials, and iconic design with lighting effects and more – however we recognize that not all who play PC games or their parents can afford or want to invest in an Alienware premium system. Dell’s new Inspiron Gaming line will allow Dell to leverage the learnings we’ve garnered from being in the gaming market over the past two decades to bring the joy of PC gaming to more people.

With Inspiron Gaming, we have a new line of game-ready systems that prioritize what PC gamers care most about such as processor and graphic card units to push the latest PC games, dual-fan cooling for extended play, a high quality visual/audio experience -all at a modest price.

Fairly recently, Alienware launched the new revision of its beefy Alienware 13 laptop, complete with an OLED screen… what can you tell us about this beast? Why should we buy it? And for that matter, the rest of Alienware’s refreshed 15 and 17 offerings, too?
Alienware announced its first ever VR ready 15” and 17” notebooks followed by the first ever 13” VR- ready notebook in the world. In a nutshell you experience superb performance wrapped in a slimmer. All systems feature Nvidia 10-series graphics (Pascal), enabling VR experiences across the entire family of notebooks. The Alienware 13 was the first gaming notebook with an OLED display, and has the new CPUs and latest NVIDIA 10-series GPUs that can push 5x the graphics performance at 4k resolutions than the previous

Alienware 13 generation (Echo). The OLED display has a 1ms typical response time which ensures your games look flawless and as OLED displays have self-lighting pixels that can switch off completely to achieve perfect black for significantly higher contrast, games can come alive with breath-taking detail especially in dark areas – You certainly won’t be disappointed!

On the Dell side there’s the Inspiron gaming laptop. There’s a bit of overlap between it and the Alienware 13 in terms of specs and pricing, so going back to the divide between Dell and Alienware what’s the important differences between the two for those who might be eyeing up a new laptop but are struggling to pick between the two?
Alienware caters to the high-end, premium gamer looking for the latest display technology, graphic cards, processor speeds, memory and VR capabilities. Alienware products represent cutting edge engineering where innovation, the latest technology, commercial-grade build and premium materials such as anodized aluminum, magnesium alloy, steel reinforcement and copper coalesce into an iconic design. We wanted to offer a choice for the unmet need among the growing demographic who loves to game and

wants to game well, but is unable to invest in their gaming rig to the same extent. There’s not really any crossover between the lines, with the Inspiron gaming laptop line, for example, starting at £799 and the Alienware gaming laptop line starting at £1,249. In this way, Inspiron gaming really is helping bring PC Gaming to a wider audience.

I’ve always traditionally been a tower person, tending to enjoy having a big case full of
components sitting on my worktop. Even I can’t deny there seems to have been a real focus on bringing powerful laptops to the market that can handle modern games at high settings while delivering solid framerates. What do you think has caused this shift?
The advancement in technology is the main reason for the shift. With the launch of Nvidia Pascal architecture graphics cards, we have seen gaming laptops that are now extremely close in performance to comparable single graphics card desktop systems. I believe the two will continue to coexist but for many people having a gaming laptop that can is equal in performance level to a desktop but easily transportable is a big advantage. Of course, the physical constraints of a laptop will make it impossible for it (within the current technology paradigm) to outperform a really ambitious desktop configuration – the

physical space in a tower chassis allows for more components (including dual or triple graphics card configurations) and better cooling, which in turn can enable overclocking and higher power processors. But things are shifting every year!

Alienware also brought in the idea of the Amplifier, a box housing a graphics card that could be hooked up to an Alienware laptop. Where did the idea for this come from?
It came precisely from the issue we discussed earlier; given the physical constraints of the laptop form factor, we wanted to give gamers the ability to have desktop-like graphics performance from laptop gaming rigs. Knowing that more and more gamers demand mobility from their primary gaming rig, we wanted to give them a performance boost option at home. The Alienware amplifier boosts the already potent gaming abilities of a portable gaming rig, providing desktop-like frame-rates and graphics performance at home… whilst leaving gamers free to take their 13” laptop (for example) on the road when

they need to. The Alienware amplifier is also a fantastic way to extend the lifetime of your laptop, a few years down the road, so you can update it, when you feel the need to, with a desktop graphics card of the latest generation.

Another shift has been toward small machines that can fit in the living room and essentially take on the role of a console. Valve made a concerted effort to break into that market, and Alienware have a console with their Alpha. Has the Alpha proven successful and successfully done what you had hoped? Or has trying to get into the living room been trickier than you thought?
The Alienware Alpha and Alienware Steam Machine are small, quiet powerhouses designed to fit next to other entertainment devices. They offer gamers an easy and accessible way to dive into their favourite steam games in a console-like manner, bringing PC Gaming to the living room. We can’t say if we succeeded in getting PC gaming in the living room or if our customers were rather in the market for an ultra-small form factor desktop to minimize the desktop’s footprint in their homes. They are great systems and remain future proof – they are compatible with the Alienware Graphics Amplifier, and you can also upgrade CPU, HDD and Memory at a later date so you can stay up to date with the latest technology.

There has arguably been no bigger potential change in the industry than the arrival of virtual reality. It’s in its infancy right now with developers still struggling to get to grips with it and pricetags that put it out of reach of most gamers.

What is Dell’s plan going forward when it comes to virtual reality? What do you think needs to be done to get it into the hands of more consumers?

Dell has been in the VR technology space for years, with our Precision, XPS and Alienware lines all focusing heavily on embracing the emerging technology. We have been collaborating with Oculus on their certification program from the start, and together we’ve been able to establish the best configuration requirements to drive the ideal VR experience. Every Alienware gaming system launched in the last year arrives ‘VR-ready’ i.e. equipped with the necessary raw power required to drive the current-generation VR technology on the market. We think there is appetite from gamers to engage with the current generation of VR-enabled games which show tremendous innovation.

Our Precision line now also includes VR-ready mobile and tower workstations, giving developers and designers the raw power needed to make compelling VR content for the current and next generation of games and films. This is key to driving the industry forward.

Dell also announced the Precision 7720 earlier this year which is meant to be a workstation for the creation of VR content. This seems to indicate that you guys are planning on investing quietly heavily into this new market. How did the 7720 come around, and what can you tell us about it?

The Dell Precision 7720 is a mobile workstation that doesn’t shackle VR content creators to one place, instead allowing them to work from anywhere they’d like. They are equipped with Intel i7 and Xeon processors and have a 17′′ display that’s available either in 1600×900, 1080p or 4K. It came about precisely because we recognise that there’s huge potential in VR, and more demand from content creators to support a variety of new content formats, from VR in gaming through to 360 4K videos – for VR and beyond. Managing and delivering this type of content requires a lot more computing resource than legacy games and content, so we’ve tooled up our Precision line accordingly.

On a more personal level, how do you feel about VR and do you believe it’s here to stay or just a passing fad? What is its future?
I think VR is going to change profoundly the way we use our systems, consume media, play video games, learn, etc… Especially when it starts to merge with augmented reality. I’m personally very excited see and try how developers will be able to change our lives through this new technology.
Of course we can’t forget about Dell’s lineup of monitors which sometimes almost seem to get forgotten about. You’ve got some awesome offerings out there. In fact, I recently got to play around with the Dell 27″ S2716DG while reviewing the Alienware Aurora and was genuinely impressed with it. What’s coming up in terms of monitors? Anything you’re excited about?
Your monitor choice really comes down to how you like to play. Our S-Series line is really well-optimised for gamers, with crisp high-resolution displays, wide angle viewing, vivid colour, low-response rates, and edge-to-edge glass for a more seamless experience. Whether using a single large display, or multiple displays for immersive gaming, they can be configured to meet the needs of the individual gamer. As the number one seller of displays in the world, our experience in design has helped us refine the form factor
of our displays as well, to meet the real-world needs of gamers.
What would you say the future of monitors is now that 4K has become more common, as has things like 21:9 aspect ratios and 144Hz refresh rates. What’s the next step?

4K is still bedding in as people get rigs that can power AAA games at decent frame rates at this resolution. We’ll see this bed in for a little while. In the future – higher resolutions, even lower latency response times… who can say? But we’re going to stay right in the thick of it, working with gamers and games developers to find out what they need and build it into our product line in the future.

And speaking of next steps, what does the future hold for Dell? What’s coming up next in the lineup and what do you guys have planned for the future?

We can’t reveal too much at this stage but the future is very exciting. We’re accelerating the pace of innovation by increasing our investment in R&D. This allows us to bring innovative tech to our customers faster such as InfinityEdge displays, 8K resolution, self-healing PCs, the largest selection of VR-ready
devices, and the world’s only predictive and preventive PC support service out there
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