Good News: Xbox LIVE Gold Can Be Refunded after June If You Don’t Need It

As announced recently, the entertainment and communication apps on Xbox will not need the Xbox LIVE Gold subscription after an update rolls out in June 2014. That’s good news because more customers will be able to enjoy those apps without having to fork out an extra $60 a year.

But what happens if you already paid the Xbox LIVE Gold subscription fees, which are usually paid on an annual basis? Well, per a recent FAQ on Xbox support site, good news awaits. After the June update rolls out, you can contact Xbox support and request a refund.

Will I be able to cancel my Gold membership?

Yes. Once the Xbox One and Xbox 360 system updates become available in June, Xbox Live Gold members who purchased a paid membership before that day can cancel and receive a pro-rata refund of any unused remaining days between the date of cancellation and the date their paid Gold membership ends. Cancellation and pro-rata refund requests must be made by August 31, 2014 and require six to eight weeks for processing. Free or trial Gold memberships are not eligible for a refund. To request your pro-rata refund, please click http://support.xbox.com/contact-us after the system updates become available in June.

So, it is good news for consumers not just that Microsoft is lifting the requirement of Xbox LIVE Gold but also that they taking care of those who bought the subscription prior to this change.

As a reminder, here’s what the new structure will look like:

Xbox features with and without Gold membership
Xbox features with and without Gold membership

Are you a casual gamer or a non-gamer like me? Are you planning to cancel your Gold subscription once this feature rolls out? I have a concern that my refund won’t go through because I bought Gold via a prepaid card I bought from Amazon.com. Fingers crossed, though. :-)

Xbox One Will Be Sold Without Kinect and Entertainment Apps Now Free to All

Microsoft made a bold decision to sell their new console, Xbox One, bundled with the new Kinect hardware. It was a bold decision because its rival Sony decided to make their motion sensing accessory optional with their own new console Playstation 4. As a somewhat direct result, Xbox One was $100 more expensive at retail compared to the Playstation 4.

Directly or indirectly related to the sales price, Microsoft took a beating against Sony when it came to sales in the months since both consoles launched. Despite having more exclusive games and content, the Xbox One was unable to beat the Playstation 4. Then came the most anticipated exclusive game for the Xbox One, Titanfall. Despite selling reasonably well as a game, it was unable to push Xbox console sales to a point which made Xbox a clear “winner”.

Here’s Xbox’s Yusuf Mehdi and Phil Spencer with the news:

Maybe that was the turning point for Microsoft officials to think about ways to juice the unit sales. A couple of direct cost cuts were announced on the Xbox Wire blog on May 13:

  • As of June 9, Kinect will not be bundled with the Xbox One, and the sale price of the console-only SKU will be $399 (the bundled price was $499 at launch, although there have been several promotions since then to make effective price lower).
  • Also as of June, Xbox LIVE Gold membership will not be required in order to enjoy all the entertainment apps that are part of the Xbox platform. Until now, in order to use Netflix on the Xbox, you not only paid Netflix for their service, you also had to pay Microsoft an annual fee of $60 in order to “unlock” that and all other entertainment and communication apps. The latter is no longer required to access services like Netflix, Hulu, NFL and utilities such as Skype and OneDrive.

The Kinect hardware will be available as a standalone SKU in the Fall in case someone wants to add it to the Xbox One after purchasing the console.

So, who would pay for the Gold membership if all the entertainment and communication features of the Xbox are now unlocked for everyone? Well, the blog post notes all the benefits of the Gold subscription:

  • Free games with the Games With Gold program: This is a continuation of the program launched for Xbox 360 and will now be applicable to Xbox One games.
  • Exclusive discounts with the Deals With Gold program: Promised savings for Gold members up to 50-75%.
  • Online multiplayer: Like now, if you want to play online multiplayer games you will need Gold.
  • Home Gold: Share the Gold membership with everyone in the household.
  • Smart Match: Algorithmic matching of players to make multiplayer less one-sided.
  • Parties and Party Chat: Enable viewing party and chat alongside parties.
  • Game DVR Cloud Storage: Your game recordings stay in the Microsoft cloud without storage limits. This feature will be a Gold-exclusive.
  • Xbox Fitness: A great “game” that tracks your fitness and provides guidance and follow ups.

Some may argue that the entertainment unlocking was long overdue and I am one of those doing so. I could not understand how Microsoft was able to get away with it, but am happy to see they have changed their ways, regardless of the reason to do so. However, in order to be a true entertainment option for most, the Xbox needs a “lite” version for those who like the entertainment options that Xbox provides and don’t care about the gaming aspects of the console. Could this and the unbundling of the Kinect hardware be a precursor to a potential XTV? Let’s hope so.

As for the Kinect, I don’t understand the move at all. One of the biggest deals for game and app makers with the Kinect bundled is that they are assured of the Kinect being present so there is no fragmentation (well, besides Xbox 360 vs Xbox One but that’s separate). Now with Kinect becoming optional, game makers have to take that extra step to handle Kinect’s presence as well as absence and adjust the interaction models accordingly. With development resources tight, I suspect most developers will go for the lowest common denominator and program with the assumption that Kinect is absent and only add voice and gesture controls as a bonus rather than making them the core interactions. That’s a pity.

It does look like Microsoft has made it a priority, much like their situation in Windows Phone and Windows 8.x tablets, to increase the installed base of the devices before thinking about “the right thing” or “the best thing”. I somewhat understand the point of view. It is no longer the huge tanker that needed years to change course. They hear the feedback, prioritize it internally, and make the changes necessary.

Xbox features with and without Gold membership
Xbox features with and without Gold membership

As a consumer, I am happy that I have a choice of buying the console with or without Kinect and am extremely delighted to have all those apps without an annual fee.

Are you more willing to buy the console now that it is $100 cheaper? Does Kinect with its voice controls appeal to you? Do you use Xbox One to control your cable box? Let me know in the comments!

What I Wish Today’s Microsoft Announcement Will Be

Windows Logo

On Thursday June 14, late in the afternoon, Microsoft sent out invites to media for a special event in Los Angeles, CA which promised to be a major announcement not to be missed. Since it was so cryptic, it created a flurry of rumors, leaks and conjecture. Several pundits have written about what it could be, connected the dots and come to a conclusion and in fact this morning, one of those guesses was even shot down.

Instead of trying to think of what it could be, I am going to write about what I hope it will be. Based on the fact that this event is in Los Angeles, I am hoping it has everything to do with entertainment tie-ups. At E3 earlier this month, Microsoft took the wraps off their new entertainment brand (Xbox-everything) and showed some bits of their new (improved?) Xbox Companion app, Smart Glass. Also, Microsoft gave a glimpse of Xbox Music, their successor to the Zune Music service. However, neither Smart Glass nor Xbox Music were looked at in detail. What we do know is they said that the Xbox Music service will have a catalog of 30 million tracks (compared to Zune Music today, which is around 20 million).

So, here’s my list of what I hope may come today:

  • Details of Xbox Music service: Additional deals to get the catalog from today’s 20 million tracks to the promised 30 million. Also, most importantly, access for the service from other platforms besides Windows (8, RT and Phone) – so, iOS apps and Android apps.
  • Unveiling of Xbox Video service: While it was made clear that Xbox is the center of Microsoft’s entertainment strategy, not much was discussed about Xbox Video. I hope that Microsoft is able to cut some deals with Hollywood to get exclusive content built into Xbox Video. Hollywood has got to be scared of Apple (and Netflix), so a good tie up with Microsoft would of course make sense for them.
  • Merge Zune Music Pass and Xbox LIVE Gold: The most ridiculous thing about Xbox as an entertainment device is that to access almost any entertainment service on the Xbox, you need an Xbox LIVE Gold account, listed at $60/year. Although there are a lot of promotions for the Gold account (Amazon routinely sells these for $45 or so), it is still an unnecessary cost for normal (read: non-gaming) customers to access services they already pay for. On the other hand, Zune Music Pass is an awesome subscription service which can be accessed over the Xbox in addition to the PC and Windows Phone. It is time for Microsoft to merge the two and call it the Xbox Pass which enables access to the video services on the Xbox platform, as well as unlimited music.
  • Xbox Lite: The Xbox today is still seen as a gaming device which can also do entertainment, never mind the stats which show that Xbox users now consume more content on the device than play games. Also, a lot of households have multiple TV sets and getting a $200 Xbox for each TV may not be worth it just for say, Netflix and Hulu. What if Microsoft made a Xbox Lite which like Apple TV would have close to no storage and would not be used for gaming. This would work great for the non-gaming customers who want to consume the unlimited music catalog and also get access to the tons of video services now available on the Xbox. If it is priced at $79, it would be a super hit, I’d imagine.
  • Announce global availability of all of the above: Most of the Zune/Xbox LIVE services are poorly represented around the world. It would be fantastic if Microsoft is able to get availability parity across the globe.

Note, I am staying away from tablets, phones and cellular stuff. I do hope that it is not about a Microsoft tablet or a Nokia phone. On the cellular front though, some random rumor about a Verizon event have some tie in to this Microsoft announcement intrigues me – Verizon is a huge hold out when it comes to Windows Phones and any partnership they have with Microsoft, I see it as a positive step.

What do you think? Too much to hope for?

Apple To Place Bid For Hulu?

Apple + Hulu

According to a new report, Apple is in early talks to make an offer to purchase Hulu; a popular online streaming service which provides TV shows and movies.

Apple Inc. is considering making a bid for the Hulu online video service, according to two people with knowledge of the auction.

Apple is in early talks that may lead to an acquisition offer for Los Angeles-based Hulu, said the people, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Many other companies have considered making an offer to Hulu, with Yahoo having made a bid of $2 billion but the company wanted a five year  exclusive on streaming content. Rumors have also suggested that Google, AT&T, and many other companies have considered bidding while Microsoft has dropped out of bidding earlier this week.

If a deal is made between Apple and Hulu, Apple would receive a new subscription service and could be a potential threat to Netflix. Hulu would retain its exclusive content licenses from its current owners  Disney, FOX/News Corp., and Comcast/NBC. In addition, Apple would be able to offer even more choices for movies and TV shows via the iTunes store and possibly convert Hulu’s video content from Flash to HTML5.

Apple recently  reported  that it had $76.2 billion in cash reserves and securities on its chest. Such a large acquisition for Apple would be unusual since they normally acquire companies that aren’t “well-known” and this large in size. Their biggest  purchase to date of a company was $400 million spent for NeXT Software Inc back in 1996.

Hulu Plus Now Available on Android

users, here is something to cheer about. Hulu has officially launched their Hulu Plus app for Android. It brings the same viewing experience for users of on Android based devices.

We’ve always said our mission is to provide the world’s premium content to people when, how and where they want it. And we know that a lot of people want that content on their Android smartphones. We’ve been working hard to make that a reality, and today, we have begun our early rollout of the Hulu Plus application on Android smartphones.

Hulu Plus will currently be available on six phones only which include the Nexus One, Nexus S, HTC Inspire 4G, Motorola Droid II, Motorola Droid X, and the Motorola Atrix with support for other devices coming out shortly.

Users of these devices can download a copy of Hulu Plus from Android market here. This link will not be available for incompatible devices so you might be disappointed. Another important thing is that Hulu Plus does not support most of the new Android based devices, however, we do hope that support for them will come out shortly.

Hulu Plus is a popular extension to the free TV show watching service which charges users to watch previous seasons of some famous shows on FOX, NBC and more. It is currently owned by Comcast and is actively looking for a new buyer.

Till then I will continue enjoying watching Family Guy and other shows on my desktop or .

Must Read: 10 Ways to Watch TV Shows Online

Xbox 360 With Kinect Gets Hulu Plus, Netflix and Avatar Kinect

Steve Ballmer boring keynote at the ongoing CES 2011 just got over and he has announced some new features for the Xbox 360 Kinect users. First and foremost, Steve announced the Avatar Kinect feature for Xbox 360 Kinect console owners. Right now, details about Avatar Kinect are sparse but from the keynote, it looked like the feature will allow Kinect owners to hang out with their friend virtually.

Pretty cool, eh? The feature will be available for all Kinect owners by spring 2011.

Avatar_Kinect

Along with Avatar Kinect, Microsoft also announced the Netflix and Hulu Plus app with for the Xbox 360 with support for Kinect. Both, Netflix and Hulu Plus will allow users to control the app as well as video playback using voice commands and gestures.

Microsoft did not mention anything else so we have to wait until more information about Netflix and Hulu Plus for Kinect surfaces.

News Corp Shuts Hulu Access To Cablevision Customers

I use Comcast, but I am subjected to daily ads about how Cablevision is going to block FOX Network soon, owned by News Corp. It looks like News Corp is taking their battle to internet grounds now.

Fox News Corp Blocking Cablevision on Hulu

All Things D is reporting that Cablevision customers across US don’t have access to FOX content on Hulu, the popular free TV shows and movie streaming website.

The screenshot above makes the battle more ugly. But it is but natural. News Corp and Cablevision are not the only ones to face this, earlier Time Warner also had a similar problem which was sorted out. So, Cablevision customers, hang on till Sunday and you might be able to watch that Football game on FOX after all.

Watch Hulu Videos Outside US Without Proxy Server

There have been several ways to watch and access Hulu videos outside US in the past, however, Hulu has been blocking those tools and most of them no longer work. However, now a Reddit user has come up with a way to watch Hulu videos outside US without having to use a proxy server or VPN.

hulu_logo

However, accessing Hulu Videos outside US is not pretty straightforward and will require you to perform several tasks. You will also have to use the Firefox browser and install a .

Access Hulu Videos Outside US for Free

Step 1: Download Firefox (if you don’t have it already) and install the Modify Headers add-on (download here)

Step 2: In Firefox, go to Tools -> Modify Headers and from the drop down box select add and enter “X-Forwarded-For” in the first input box and enter the IP address of any US website and click enter.

Step 3: You will need to block TCP and UDP port 1935 since Hulu Flash client tries to connect to that port. Once you have blocked that port it will fall back to Http. To block TCP and UDP ports on Windows, visit this page.

To UDP and TCP port on a Mac, type this in a terminal window:

sudo ipfw add 0 deny tcp from any to any 1935
sudo ipfw add 0 deny udp from any to any 1935

Linux users will have to do this through the iptables by running the following commands:

iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 1935 -j DROP
iptables -A INPUT -p udp --dport 1935 -j DROP

That’s it, this trick should allow you to watch Hulu videos outside the US at-least for a while till Hulu comes up with a fix for it. Using this trick might block Flash on other websites, so use it only when you want to watch Hulu videos.

(Reddit via Life Hacker)

Microsoft Advertising IE8 on Hulu For A Better Experience

I have seen a lot of advertisements on Hulu, however, for the first time today (maybe this ad was very old) I saw Microsoft advertising IE8 on Hulu to "Amplify your Hulu experience".

IE8 Hulu Advertisment

The ad in question leads you to a Hulu page which provides users with IE8 add-ins for Web Slices, Search Box and Accelerators. You can see it here.

Not that IE8 is bad, but I would rather stay away from it and use or to watch the videos from Hulu, what about you?

Presidential Address for Gulf Oil Spill Live Streaming on Hulu

Hulu the free online video service which offers hit TV shows online, is diving into live streaming with the Presidential Address by Barack Obama to address the Gulf Oil Spill issue from the White House.

Unlike other Hulu videos which are limited to the United States, The Presidential Address for the Gulf Oil Spill crisis will be available internationally at 8PM EST.

As President Obama addresses the nation regarding the oil spill in the Gulf this evening, you can catch the speech in its entirety as it streams live from Hulu

Hulu is also allowing websites and blogs to embed the video. You can also watch the Presidential Address live streaming in the embedded video below. Video after the jump.