Tag Archives: Kinect

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!

XBOX ONE: Can Microsoft Own the Living Room?

On May 21, Microsoft revealed the next generation of their gaming-cum-entertainment console, Xbox. Dubbed XBOX ONE, officials made it a point to talk up the non-gaming aspects of the new console as much as, if not more than, the gaming aspects. Given that the reveal event was limited to an hour, and that this is a console that has not been updated for years, there were many questions raised than answers provided.

Some of the key questions, at least among the tech media revolve around the gaming aspects of the console, and whether it or the upcoming console from Sony, the Playstation 4 (PS4) would be the better device for gamers. The other aspect that has been questioned a lot is the live TV feature revealed by Microsoft. Eyebrows were raised when everyone realized that the live TV feature would be provided via HDMI input and IR blaster as opposed to TV tuners or cable cards.

This is typical of tech media nowadays. For whatever reason, they make anything that Microsoft does seem silly. Here’s my take on what the Xbox One represents for Microsoft and how some of the things that are in the console may make sense.

First, this was the first of many events where the Xbox team will talk about the various aspects of the console. Naturally, since there is so much information to disseminate, it would be too much to do all at once and in a reasonable amount of time. Remember how the Sony event went on for hours because they went into too much detail at a “launch” event? I think, Microsoft learned the lesson and kept it short and left it simply as a reveal event without going into too much (or any) detail with regard to the developer story, the policy for used games, etc. There are at least two known events in June where they will get a chance to talk about the Xbox One as well as Xbox 360: the E3 expo in early June, and the Microsoft developer conference, BUILD, in late June. The timing of the reveal event absolutely makes sense given that they can follow up on the story within weeks of the reveal.

As for gaming aspects, Microsoft did talk about the specs of the console which are a significant upgrade over the Xbox 360. They also talked about how the three OSes in the console work in a way to make it possible to instantly switch between apps and games without having to wait for the game to reload. Some have rightly pointed out that by pure specs, the Xbox One is inferior to the PS4. However, as we know, there is no point in having a higher spec gadget where the software or content cannot or does not take advantage of the higher spec. For example, the iPad with Retina Display had an issue when it shipped, where many of the popular apps were not Retina-ready and looked worse than they looked on the non-Retina iPads. So, we will have to wait and see how much better the graphics look on the PS4 before concluding that it is “better” than the Xbox One.

As for the games themselves, they showed some of the exclusives that are coming to Xbox One from large development shops like EA. Naturally, E3 is the more appropriate venue to talk more about the games that will be coming to the console when it launches, both from large shops as well as indie developers. Also, BUILD is the best venue to discuss the developer story, especially how Xbox plans to accommodate indie developers especially if the “guts” of the console are based on Windows 8. Can a developer, for example, build an app or a game for Windows 8 tablet and with minor modifications (like maybe Kinect support), publish it to the “Xbox Store”? I am of course making the assumption that there will be an Xbox Store, which has not been confirmed by Microsoft but again, between E3 and BUILD we should know for sure.

Now, regarding live TV and wasted resources (hardware and software) to support it via a combination of HDMI passthrough and IR blaster. The argument made is that these methods are backward and it was tried by Google TV and did not succeed at all. Let me just say that Google TV, among many other flaws, did not support voice like Xbox One is supposed to support. The demo at the reveal event showed how you could simply talk to the Xbox and switch from playing a game to watching a channel or a show just by voice. Google TV had a clunky remote that was really hard to use and perhaps the failure of Google TV was not the IR blaster as maybe the user experience itself.

Coming to the choice they made by not including TV tuners or cable cards, the same pundits complaining about these are also claiming that more and more entertainment is viewed without cable. There is evidence that at least in the US, many households are “cutting the cord” and living without cable. These households have not stopped watching TV, they just use services like Netflix, hulu, etc. to consume their content. If that is the case, and knowing that the Xbox console is built for at least a 7-10 years lifecycle, what is the point in supporting a dying technology? Why should the Xbox have the incremental cost bundled into it now, knowing that in maybe 3 years most of the content won’t be consumed via the cable box? The Xbox One has done the right thing by providing the equivalent of a USB dongle for floppy drives when floppy drives were eliminated from laptops. The HDMI-in and IR blaster will help transition away from the cable box. Even though they have to plan for the future, they still have to support the present and that’s what these ports allow them to do. The only issue I see so far, and we don’t know everything about it in detail yet, is the lack of a DVR in the console itself. That too could be a non-issue if the voice commands could bring up the DVR content from the cable box too.

The Xbox 360 has sold 76 million consoles in its lifetime so far, but I am sure Microsoft wants that to expand dramatically. Why wouldn’t they expect to have one in each household? In order to appeal to “non-gaming households”, Microsoft will have to make the console appealing to the casual gamers and non-gamers via their entertainment story as well as the ecosystem story. There is, after all, a potential to see apps written for Windows Phone that may work on Windows 8 and Xbox One (with code modifications to suit each device appropriately, of course). Pure gaming console market is surely on the decline, so targeting just the gamers by simply making the most powerful console on the market would be a waste of R&D resources. Instead, by making it reasonably competitive with the PS4 for gaming, and dramatically improving the other experiences like live TV, snapping two apps, Skype video conferencing in HD, completely overhauled Kinect with wide-angle 1080P camera that can see in the dark, exclusive partnership with the NFL, etc., Microsoft has a shot at becoming a permanent fixture in the living room.

Personally speaking, I am at best a casual gamer. I liked what I have seen so far. I do want to know how they are going to fit the developer pieces together and what are the chances of seeing a spurt in apps as well as the integration within the Windows ecosystem. By the end of June, I will know enough to decide if I am going to buy the console right away or not.

Are you excited about Xbox One? Sound off in the comments!

#XboxReveal: Next Xbox Coming on May 21

As was rumored, Microsoft announced an event on their campus scheduled for May 21, where they promise to talk about the next generation of the Xbox. Larry Hyrb, more popularly known as Xbox LIVE’s Major Nelson, announced the event on his blog.

#XboxReveal

Timing-wise, it works out very well for Microsoft. They can reveal the console and its capabilities along with the story of how it ties into the rest of the Microsoft ecosystem, especially around Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 in May. This reveal is then followed up 19 days later by the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) where Microsoft traditionally has had a major presence and a big keynote. This is where they show off the games that would accompany the launch, which is widely expected to by this Holiday season.

Finally, at the end of June comes //build, Microsoft’s developer conference where they could tell a deeper story to the rest of the developers (besides the launch partners, which are expected to be big game developer houses) and put the developer pieces together for not just game developers but perhaps all developers. If the rumors are true and the next Xbox is really “Windows 8 Inside”, there could be a lot of possibilities for all kinds of applications to be made available on the large screen. Combined with the power of the next version of Kinect, developers would have a great way to take their code from a Windows Phone 8 app or a Windows 8 app and tweak it for use on a large screen with gestures, voice and indirect touch via SmartGlass.

As for the #XboxReveal event itself, some of the media has been invited to the Xbox campus, but Microsoft is also live streaming the event on xbox.com, on Xbox LIVE on the console itself and on SpikeTV in the US and Canada. The event is on Tuesday, May 21st at 1pmET/10amPT/1700GMT.

As for the rumors, there have been a ton of them already about the specs of the console and the architecture. Much like Sony’s PS4, the Xbox is believed to be running on AMD architecture. Additionally, a more precise version of Kinect is expected to be on-board. There were initially rumors of an entertainment-only version of the console, to align with Apple TV, Roku and others, but recent updates suggest that it may have been postponed for now.

Among the unknowns of course are what the console looks like (there have been no leaks of the renders), the pricing and of course whether the current Xbox 360 would be kept in the market and if so, at what price.

I am excited about this, but not so much for the gaming on next generation hardware. I am more interested in the non-gaming parts of the next Xbox. How about you?

Microsoft Announces $79.99 Xbox 360 Essentials Pack, Lowers Kinect Price

With the holiday season on the horizon, Microsoft will be doing some special things for their flagship entertainment device to boost sales and value for consumers. They have announced that the price of the Kinect has been permanently lowered to $109.99 in the US, with other permanently reduced prices taking effect throughout North America, Latin America, and Asia Pacific regions where the device is sold. And, come October 4th, the price will also be permanently reduced in Australia and New Zealand.

The second Xbox-related tidbit is that Microsoft will be selling a bundle of essential Xbox 360 accessories at a lower cost than purchasing each item at a standalone price. Aptly dubbed the Xbox 360 Essentials Pack, the bundle includes the following for the relatively low cost of $79.99:

  • Xbox 360 Controller
  • Media Remote Control
  • HDMI Cable
  • Three-month long Xbox LIVE Gold Membership

Microsoft claims that, by purchasing the bundle, you will save $55 on these items.

The permanently reduced Kinect price should certainly help entice more Xbox 360 buyers to purchase the accessory, while the bundle will act as a convenience — and means of saving money — to new Xbox buyers and current owners alike.

Microsoft’s E3 2012 Press Conference Highlights

Microsoft kicked off this this year’s E3. Here’s what they showcased

Splinter Cell:Blacklist

Sam Fisher makes a comeback with a new Splinter Cell game. Being developed by Ubisoft Toronto, the demo shows that the game’s strayed a bit from its stealth roots.

Gears of War

Gears of War was the next game to be demoed. The game is being developed by People Can Fly studios, creators of games like Bulletstorm and is expected to include co-op gameplay.

Forza

Microsoft also showcased a new Forza being developed by a new developer, titled Forza Horizon. Unlike previous Forza games, this one looks to be open world with street and dirt roads.

Kinect, Smart Glass, Xbox Music

There were quite a few Kinect titles being showcased, including Fable,  FIFA 13, NFL and Dance Central. My colleague Paul takes a deeper look at Xbox Music and Smart Glass.

Gameplay Demos

Besides trailers, Microsoft also had some gameplay demos of some of their most popular franchises

Halo 4

Halo 4 seemed like just another Halo title, there wasn’t anything groundbreaking that I could notice.

Tomb Raider

Lara Croft and Tomb Raider looked pretty good – if not for Lara’s constant moaning which sounds fairly disturbing.

Resident Evil 6

Also on display was Resident Evil 6 featuring what seems like hint of cell-shaded graphics.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

Rounding off the press conference was Call of Duty Black Ops 2, which had cinematics, guns, flying aircrafts and still managed to look more boring and repetitive than watching a painter paint a fence.

Overall, quite a disappointing E3 showcase by Microsoft. What’re your thoughts? Drop in a comment and let us know.

Epic Cancels Gears of War: Exile

Epic Games has cancelled Gears of War: Exile, Epic’s rumoured upcoming game for the Xbox 360. Speaking to Gamespot, Epic Games Design Director Cliff Bleszinski mentioned that the studio has ceased working on the game.

Quoting Cliff

Let’s just bury the hatchet now. Gears of War: Exile was an unannounced game that I can’t give any details about that has since been cancelled.

Gears of War:Exile was rumoured to be unveiled at E3 2011, with Epic Games having even gone to the extent of trademarking “Gears of War: Exile”. However, since then, very little has been known about the game, apart from rumours of it being a Kinect-supported rails shooter.

Cliff’s statement indicates a certain amount of frustration about it being canned, and we can only wonder what was the real reason for it being shelved.

Microsoft Preparing Kinect for Windows 1.5 Update

According to a blog post earlier this week, Microsoft are readying the Kinect for Windows 1.5 update for release by late May. What’s new? Here’s what they touched on in the post:

Kinect Studio, which is an application that lets developers record, playback, and debug clips of users engaging with their applications. Interesting, yet oddly creepy at the same time. However, it could add an element of entertainment for developing with the Xbox; watching people use stuff like the Kinect is always hilarious, after all.

Skeletal tracking, referred to by Microsoft as “seated” or “10-joint” tracking, which allows you to track the head, neck and arms of either a seated or standing users. This will work in both default and near mode.

French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese are now available for speech recognition. New language packs will also be released to “enable speech recognition for the way a language is spoken in different regions”. A pack will be released for the following regions: English/Great Britain, English/Ireland, English/Australia, English/New Zealand, English/Canada, French/France, French/Canada, Italian/Italy, Japanese/Japan, Spanish/Spain and Spanish/Mexico.

In conclusion, the team also announced that Kinect for Windows will be available in nineteen additional countries shortly. It will hit Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan in late May, and in late June, Kinect for Windows will also hit Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.

Google Working on Kinect like Technology for Android

It goes without saying that Microsoft has done a wonderful job with the Kinect. It has been successful technologically attracting a lot of developer love, it has broken sales records worldwide from a business perspective and for an end-user, and it has devised the next-gen input system for home-computing devices.

project-natal

However, it will be interesting to note that Microsoft is not the only one working on a gesture and motion controlled input system. Google has filed a patent ten days ago for a similar touch and gesture controlled system, and it clearly says that the patent is for “portable electronic devices”, which can only be considered as cellphones for now. The abstract of the patent says,

Systems and methods are provided for controlling a portable electronic device. The device includes a built-in image-capturing device. The system detects, through the image-capturing device, motions of user finger over the image-capturing device. The system determines a pattern of the detected motions using timing information related to the detected motions, and controls the portable electronic device based on the determined pattern. The system also receives inputs from other input devices associated with the portable electronic device, and controls the device based on combination of the determined pattern and the received inputs.

The patent speaks extensively about detecting motion patterns, and it seems like these motions will be used as gestures. There are references to two distinct motion types in the patent filing. The first one is “touch motion”, which is the typical touch interface on a touchscreen device. The second one however, is a “release motion”, which is the gesture controlled input system Google has in plan. It talks capturing and reading hovering motion alongside other gesture mechanisms.

More details on the patent filing can be found at this page.

(via: slashdot)

Xbox Goes Black, Successfully Goes Back

Microsoft’s Steve Clayton is right; there certainly is something alluring about white technology. The color is clean, sleek, pure, and, when executed in an industrial design correctly, it can look stunning. That being said, for those of you who are fans of white gadgetry, Microsoft have announced the Xbox 360 Special Edition 4GB Kinect Bundle.

Priced at $299, here’s what you get: A white Xbox 360 4GB console, a glossy white Kinect sensor, a white Xbox 360 wireless controller, two popular Kinect titles — Kinect Sports and Kinect Adventures — and finally a three month subscription to Xbox LIVE Gold. This special edition console is available in the US and in some parts of the world starting today, and it will be hitting the shelves in Europe and Brazil sometime in the next few months.

Should you require a few additional controllers to play with friends, a special edition white controller will be available as well.

Microsoft has sold a over 65.8 million Xbox 360s and 18 million Kinect units worldwide since their respective launch dates. Recent data also suggests that the Xbox 360 was the best-selling console in 2011. With the console’s additional entertainment capabilities beyond gaming in mind, it’s no wonder that the Xbox 360 has been heralded as the king of the living room.

Major Nelson has posted up a gallery of photos on Flickr showcasing the bundle.

Microsoft Reports Record Quarterly Revenue of $20.9 Billion, Net Profit of $6.6 Billion

Microsoft reported its quarterly results for Q4 2011 (Q2 FY2012), with revenue of around $20.9 billion and a net profit of more than $6.6 billion. It has been Microsoft’s best quarter in recent times, with revenue growth of around 5% year-over-year.

Following the earnings release, Microsoft’s stock price has jumped to a 52-week high of more than $29.7. It is still relatively undervalued compared to other tech giants, in terms of its P/E ratio.

2012 is going to be the year of Microsoft, with Windows 8 coming out in mid-2012. Windows Phone is also expected to gain more traction this year.

“We delivered solid financial results, even as we prepare for a launch year that will accelerate many of our key products and services,” said Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer at Microsoft. “Coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show, we’re seeing very positive reviews for our new phones and PCs, and a strong response to our new Metro style design that will unify consumer experiences across our phones, PCs, tablets, and television in 2012.”

Microsoft generated $4.74 billion in revenue from Windows, down 6% primarily because Windows license sales have slowed down, as customers wait for the launch of Windows 8. Windows 7 sold almost 525 million licenses since launch, and Windows 8 will presumably sell even more, fueled by the growing popularity of tablets as well as ultrabooks.

It continued to generate loads of cash from the Business division, comprised mainly of Office, Dynamics, SharePoint etc. Revenue grew 3% to $6.28 billion. Revenue from Servers grew 11% this quarter, to $4.77 billion.

The Entertainment and Devices division showed the most revenue growth, with revenue growing around 15% to $4.24 billion, primarily because of stellar sales of the Xbox and Kinect. Microsoft has sold more than 66 million Xbox 360 consoles and around 18 million Kinect units to date. With Kinect for Windows launching in February, revenue from this division should jump higher in the next quarter.