Tag Archives: Xbox 360

Minecraft Maker Mojang Joins Microsoft

The rumors were true. Microsoft announced on September 15, that they have agreed to acquire Mojang, the makers of Minecraft. Mojang, based in Sweden, announced that the founders Notch, Carl and Jakob will be leaving as part of this acquisition.

This acquisition has naturally created a lot of noise because on the one hand, many fear that Microsoft will ruin the company and in the worst case scenario, pull the cross-platform nature of Minecraft and make it Windows-only. On the other, there are saner minds who have spelled out that, if done right, this would be a good bet for Microsoft to invest into the next generation of makers and therefore, potential developers.

Minecraft, for those who are not aware, is an online game very popular among kids, where players build environments much like using LEGO to build structures and things. There is a level of interactivity because of the online nature of the game, so for example, cousins across the world could be building stuff together. There is no limit to what you can build and there have been crazy examples of stuff built in Minecraft including an actual functioning hard drive!

The company is profitable, and Microsoft expects to be net positive for the deal by FY 2015. For Microsoft, since Mojang is based in Sweden, it helps them use some of the offshore cash which they would not have brought back to the US anyway, due to tax liabilities.

Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, has made it clear that nothing is planned to change. MINECON, the Minecraft conference will continue as planned. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, said they are looking forward to the new opportunity this will bring to Microsoft:

“Minecraft is more than a great game franchise – it is an open world platform, driven by a vibrant community we care deeply about, and rich with new opportunities for that community and for Microsoft.”

Notch, the nickname of Markus Persson who created the game, said he is leaving Mojang because he could not handle the company now that it has become such a massive, global initiative. He wants to focus on software development and given the close working relationship he formed with Microsoft in the process of bringing Minecraft to Xbox, he thought it was best that Microsoft continues supporting and investing in Mojang.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft handles the obviously different culture that Mojang brings. We have seen them handle Yammer and Skype, both companies with a similar potential culture clash problem, by keeping them independent. Game makers are perhaps one step farther in terms of having a non-corporate culture, so besides keeping them independent, it will be important to see how the company is nurtured.

What are your thoughts? Crazy move for Microsoft? Crazy move for Mojang? Or mutually beneficial to both?

 

 

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?

Xbox Music – a Great Service with Some Asterisks

I hate to focus on the missing aspects at the time of the launch of a great new service, but as a fan of Xbox Music (i.e., it its original name, Zune Music), I can’t help shake my head at the things that it does not do. I really like how Xbox Music looks and cannot wait to try it, but here’s hoping Microsoft works on quickly fixing these things.

First, a quick primer on what the newly announced service: Xbox Music is an all-you-can-eat music consumption service along with a music store all tied to a cloud-based sync service to enable your music and playlists to roam across devices. For now, these devices are Windows 8 PCs (including Windows RT devices), Windows Phone 8 phones and Xbox 360. The Xbox Music Pass, which enables free streaming of the entire catalog would cost $9.99 per month for phones and Xbox, and it would be free (ad-supported) for Windows 8 PCs and Windows RT devices. Additionally for using it on the Xbox you also need an Xbox LIVE Gold account, which comes with “tens of thousands” of music videos in addition to the streaming music. See my colleague Manan Kakkar’s take on Xbox Music here.

As you can see, everything is great about the service if you live within the Microsoft ecosystem, and if you are planning to buy one of the new devices (PCs, tablets, phones) launching this Fall. iOS and Android support is “coming soon”. So is the social piece, where you can share what you are listening to (and presumably, more) with your friends. Both of the these missing pieces are big for similar reasons: adoption and viral marketing.

First of all, let me clarify that there is no single service that provides what Xbox Music provides. While Pandora provides music discovery and streaming, it does not allow on-demand play nor does it have a music store. Rdio and Spotify provide on-demand streaming and a little bit of music discovery (via social and “radio”) but they don’t have their own stores. iTunes has perhaps the world’s largest store but it does not have a subscription plan. Xbox Music has all of the combined features, so you can actually ditch multiple services and use just Xbox Music.

However, one of the reason Rdio and Spotify are so popular is the social aspect. Friends share what they are listening to, making it easier to discover new music and also share the same with others. The other major factor of their success is that they are available on pretty much all major platforms in some shape or form, which in turn helps the social features even more – I don’t need to have all my friends on Windows 8, for example, in order to share my playlists with them.

iOS and Android being the fastest growing platforms today, are almost a requirement for any service which has ambitions of getting millions of users. Not having social is not as bad, but it helps in more than one way, so it is also quite a big missing piece. There is hope that this “new Microsoft” with its rapid pace of updating their products and services, is able to get these holes filled sooner than later.

Another glaring ommision is the concept of an Xbox Music Family Pass. In order to use the service optimally, you would want to use your own Microsoft account so that it can cater the selections to your taste. However, unlike the Xbox LIVE Gold accounts, there is no Family Pass for Xbox Music Service. This is a bummer because in a household, there is very likely going to be 2, 3 or 4 individuals who may want to use the service and having to pay $40 per month is not really a trivial decision. I was really hopeful that the lack of a Family Pass for Zune Music Pass would be remediated by an Xbox Music Family Pass. Looks like it was not to be. At least, not yet.

Setting those things aside, I think bundling Xbox Music for free on Windows PCs is a huge benefit, especially for Windows RT. For those not enthused by Windows 8/RT, who end up asking “why buy a Windows RT tablet instead of iPad or Android”, this becomes yet another feature in favor of Windows RT. With Xbox Music included for (ad-supported) free and Office Home and Student RT which comes bundled on Windows RT tablets, you have the world’s most popular productivity suite and on paper, the world’s only music service of its kind, included with a Windows RT tablet. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Android tablets should be part of this discussion at all given that the two successful devices so far have been 7″ (Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire), which don’t really compete with iPad or Windows RT.

So, in hindsight, the iOS/Android presence may actually be deliberately delayed, so that the case for buying a Windows RT tablet this holiday season is clearer. I like that pitch quite a lot because even if the Windows RT tablets are priced the same as an iPad, they will end up offering way more than an iPad can offer, and that, without adding the complexity of having a “full-blown PC”.

Xbox Music is a good move by Microsoft to showcase their execution of “devices and services” strategy, which previously would have been referred to as three screens and a cloud. Beautiful-looking services being delivered on well-made hardware, with roaming features so you can enjoy them the same way regardless of where you enjoy them? Now, that may actually be magical.

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.

Notch: Minecraft Is The Best-Selling XBLA Game Ever

With Minecraft quickly proving itself to be a largely popular game on the computer, the news that broke yesterday should come as no surprise: Minecraft creator and Mojang founder Notch proudly tweeted that in under a month, Minecraft became the best-selling game ever on XBLA (Xbox Live Arcade, a service that offers an array of game titles through digital distribution). Mojang employee Daniel Kaplan followed up in another tweet saying that 2 million copies have been sold.

The title is no stranger to relatively awesome milestones, though; Minecraft on Xbox 360 was the fastest-selling XBLA game ever, selling more than any other title within the first 24 hours on XBLA. There were over 400,000 people playing already at that time. And on May 14th, Major Nelson amended his post with an update stating that Minecraft has sold over 1 million copies worldwide in just under a week of availability. Also, as of May 14th — almost a month ago — a total of 5.2 million online hours, 4 million multiplayer sessions, and 2.4 million total multiplayer gaming hours were already clocked across all users. Crazy.

Now, bear in mind that the Xbox 360 version of the game is relatively lacking in features compared to its PC counterpart. Enchantments, the ability to connect to popular PC servers, and other key parts of Minecraft have not been implemented in the XBLA version just yet. However, even a more minimal and barebones version of Minecraft is awesome, so it’s not a surprise that people are still purchasing the console version of the game despite these existing “drawbacks”.

I don’t think that the traction surrounding Minecraft will stop anytime soon (not before Notch launches 0x10c, at least.)

Microsoft Announces Xbox Music (RIP Zune)

It looks like it’s time to finally hold a funeral for the Zune brand (it’s too late to do an open casket viewing, though; the body is already far too decomposed.) Microsoft has finally unveiled Xbox Music, the successor to the Zune Pass streaming service (and entire Zune brand, for that matter), rumored to have been codenamed “Woodstock”. During a very brief teaser that showed dramatic flashes of a Metro-style music app, Microsoft only shared two tidbits about the service today: It will pack a library of over 30 million songs, and it will be available on Windows 8 and Windows Phone devices as well as on your TV screen via Xbox.

The service — and subsequent phasing out of the Zune brand — has already been mentioned on the Zune.net website. On a Q&A format page that explains Xbox Music and what’s going to happen to Zune, we finally have word from the horse’s mouth indicating that the brand will be killed off:

The Zune music and video service has been a key component of Microsoft’s entertainment offering. We’re using our expertise from Zune to launch a brand-new music service under the Xbox Music brand.  When we launch, Xbox Music will bring you a world-class music library, and great new ways to enjoy, share and discover new music. We will release Xbox music on Xbox 360, Windows Phones and Windows 8 PCs and Tablets. Click HERE to watch the video from our E3 announcement.

Again, Microsoft is yet to really share any details about this service, so its differences and improvements from its predecessor remain unknown. There is chatter, however, claiming that it’s more than just a Zune rebranding.

I do hope that Microsoft makes this a cross-platform service. Music streaming has been really gaining ground with mainstream users lately through services like Spotify and Rdio, and if they’re making an awesome service, it could be a great way to get more people to use Metro and sort of familiarize themselves with the Microsoft ecosystem.

We can expect Microsoft to share more on Xbox Music throughout the coming months.

Microsoft Demonstrates SmartGlass “Airplay-Esque” Technology At E3, Brings Three Screens Closer Together

As of late, Microsoft has been working hard to better unify its ecosystem. The company is in a unique position as it owns a living room entertainment device, a desktop operating system, and a mobile phone OS. With E3 taking place today, the spotlight was placed on the entertainment device, and Microsoft took that opportunity to unveil a product that would better integrate the company’s other two screens with their entertainment device. Dubbed SmartGlass, the app transcends screens to allow users to utilize their tablets and phones to indulge in and interact with content on their TVs.

The first thing that the company demonstrated was the ability to watch a movie or show on a TV using your Xbox, stop the movie, and continue watching it — from where you left off — on your tablet, and vice versa. As Microsoft intends to compete with Apple in the living room, it was only a matter of time until they’d implement this AirPlay-esque feature.

This isn’t all there is to SmartGlass. You can also utilize it to view relevant bonus content on your “secondary screens” while watching something on your Xbox; this was demonstrated on stage with Game of Thrones. The same applies to bonus content with games; they showed a user playing Halo 4 being able to view information and schematics on a ship on their tablet. Users will also be able to actually interact with some games using their tablets as well: They showed off the ability to make a play in a football game on your tablet then execute/play it on the Xbox, scoring a touchdown.

And finally, they showed off how SmartGlass can help with using the Internet on your TV. As using a keyboard and mouse in the living room is something that nobody does, they demonstrated that you can easily browse the web using your smartphone and a few robotic Kinect commands. With SmartGlass, you could use your phone as a touch trackpad to control a cursor on screen, panning, scrolling, tapping to click, and even using gestures such as pinch to zoom. While I’m sure people will continue to avoid browsing the web on their consoles as much as possible, this at least helps to smoothen the experience.

SmartGlass will also be available on Android and iOS on top of Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

Here’s a video that showcases SmartGlass, Xbox Music, and Kinect voice commands:

Microsoft Touts Xbox 360 Worldwide Sales Dominance, Announces New Content Partnerships

During the E3 keynote in which Microsoft Ushered in their vision for the future of entertainment, the company also proudly pointed out that the Xbox 360 has gone beyond being the top-selling console in North America to having its foot on the throats of Sony and Nintendo worldwide. Now, their global reign didn’t just begin this month; not only was the Xbox 360 the best-selling console of 2011, but Xbox yearly sales surpassed that of the PS3 and Wii back in February, so it seems that the king of the living room is only maintaining its worldwide sales reign.

Today’s announcements of SmartGlass, Xbox Music, Internet Explorer on Xbox, and numerous hit titles should only act to bolster sales. Microsoft is rightfully pretty enthused about it:

“Xbox is on a mission to make the entertainment that you love even more amazing,” said Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. “With Xbox SmartGlass, we are lighting up entertainment across your phone, tablet, PC and TV in a completely new way. If you love to play games, watch TV and movies, surf the Web, or listen to music, there has never been a better time to be on Xbox.”

Microsoft has also announced a multitude of new media partnerships and content that will be coming to the Xbox within the next 12 months. Here are 35 such partnerships that the company announced today:

Absolute Radio (U.K.), Ameba TV (Canada, U.S.), BreakMedia (Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, Singapore, South Africa, U.K., U.S.), Comedy Central Stand Up (U.S.), Comoyo (Denmark, Norway, Sweden), Corus Entertainment’s Franklin the Turtle (Canada), GameSpot TV (Australia, Canada, U.K., U.S.), Headweb (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden), Indie Flix (U.S.), Machinima (All Xbox LIVE markets), Napster (Germany, U.K.), Nickelodeon (U.S.), Paramount Movies (U.S.), Picturebox (U.K), Quickflix (Australia, New Zealand), Rakuten ShowTime (Japan), Revision3 (Canada, U.K., U.S.), Rhapsody (U.S.), RTL XL (Netherlands), Slacker Radio (Canada, U.S.), SnagFilms (U.S.) Terra Sunday TV (Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico), The AOL On Network (Australia, Canada, Netherlands, U.K., U.S.), The Weather Channel (U.S.), The Whistle (U.S.), TOU.TV (Canada), TV3 (Spain), Twitch TV (U.S.), Univision (U.S.), Wuaki (Spain), and Youzee (Spain).

And for you sport fans, Microsoft has the following content providers in store for you:

  • NBA Game Time with NBA.com League Pass Broadband (U.S.) and NBA League Pass (outside of the U.S.). Fans who subscribe to NBA.com League Pass Broadband will have access to hundreds of out of market live games (blackout restrictions apply in the U.S. and some international markets), plus highlights from around the league and up to the minute stats of your favorite players.
  • NHL GameCenter LIVE™ (Worldwide except Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden). Hockey fans will be able to enjoy every moment of the live action as it happens on the ice, with live games (out-of-market and blackout restrictions apply), more in-game interactivity, and replays and highlights on demand any time.
  • ESPN (U.S.). Later this year fans will enjoy 24/7 live programming through WatchESPN from ESPN Networks – ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3 and ESPN U. All the favorites, including “SportsCenter,” “SportsNation,” “The Mike and Mike Show,” as well as ESPN’s coverage of the NFL, MLB and the NBA, will be live on Xbox.

In conclusion, Kinect voice search will be expanding to 12 additional countries: Australia, Austria, Brazil, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and Switzerland. It’s definitely been a big day for the Xbox. Stay tuned as we delve further into today’s various announcements from the Xbox E3 keynote.

Image Source: Josh Ferris (Flickr)

With Amazon Instant Video and More, Is Xbox 360 the Center of Your Entertainment?

Amazon has announced the launch of the Instant Video app for Xbox 360 that gives customers access to movies and TV episodes on their console. Xbox Live Gold members who also are subscribed to the Amazon Prime service can now access over 17,000 movies and TV episodes from Amazon. If you don’t have the Amazon Prime subscription, you can purchase any streaming video content and watch it on your Xbox 360 console.

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Download the Amazon Instant Video application from the Apps section of the Xbox dashboard. Once in the Amazon Instant Video application, sign in using your Amazon credentials and instantly watch the videos you want. While you can shop the Amazon Instant Video store from the web on a PC, Mac or tablet, you can’t do that from the console! Bummer, yes. Buying and renting movies directly on your Xbox 360 is not currently supported, although, anything you buy or rent will appear in Your Video Library on your Xbox 360.

The app includes a new Watchlist feature, similar to Netflix Queue, that lets you manage your queue and purchased content in a playlist from your computer. The app is Kinect-enabled, and you can use gesture or voice commands for the navigation through the app. Amazon’s WhisperSync feature that makes reading on Kindle devices and mobile/desktop apps seamless finds a neat, similar use in the app. You can start a video on one device and continue it from the same point on a second device like a Kindle Fire.

Xbox has become the center of entertainment offerings from Microsoft (Farewell Zune?). Microsoft has been building content partnerships progressively bringing the HBO Go app and Xfinity On Demand app to Xbox 360. The brand also enjoys a favorable buzz in the industry, unlike the often-messed up Windows Live or Zune, and the unification of entertainment options under the Xbox umbrella might just give Microsoft the right impetus for the next generation of Windows and Windows Phone.

Sennheiser Launches Xbox Gaming Headsets in India

Sennheiser has finally launched the internationally acclaimed and popular Xbox gaming headsets in India. These first ever headsets from Sennheiser specifically designed for Xbox have been honored with the 2012 Red Dot Design award. The Sennheiser gaming headsets – X320 and X2 – assist gamers in not just great audio experience but also communicating effectively with teammates or opponents. The headsets include features specifically developed for Xbox gaming and are backed by a worldwide warranty of two years.

Sennheiser X320

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Priced at INR 7,990, the Sennheiser X320 has an outstanding open-acoustic design with their patented CircleFlex ear cups and is very comfortable when worn for hours of gaming as you indulge in a mission in Call of Duty. The amplified stereo sound boosts the Xbox 360’s audio experience while the pro-noise cancelling microphone ensures that only the gamer’s voice is heard. The headset comes with an interesting feature that allows gamers to mute the microphone by raising just the boom eliminating the need for buttons.

Sennheiser X2

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If you are looking for an economical option, the Sennheiser X2 is priced at INR 1,790. The headset offers a great gaming experience and is very lightweight, although durable. The audio experience is uncompromised with precise speakers and noise cancelling microphones for an easy and effective communication with teammates or opponents.

Kinect-Enabled Internet Explorer Coming To Xbox 360

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 stopped being just a gaming console some time back. Ever since, the console has been Microsoft’s ticket into the living room. Earlier today, Peter Kafka writing for AllThingsD covered a report that says Xbox 360 is the most used device other than a PC for viewing videos. (Xbox 28%, iPad comes a close second with 27%.) Cable companies like Comcast are now working with Microsoft on offering cable content through the console.

When news about a $99 Xbox/Kinect bundled came out, I categorically stated that Apple TV and Google TV are a long way from stealing any marketshare from Microsoft in the living room. Going further, Tom Warren at the Verge is reporting that Microsoft is expected to bring feature-full Internet browsing on the Xbox 360 using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Google has Chrome powering the Internet browsing experience on their Google TV platform. According to Tom’s sources, Microsoft is currently testing a version of IE9. It is highly likely that the Metro based Internet Explorer 10 available in Windows 8 will be available on the Xbox 360.

The other interesting tidbit Tom got was that this version of Internet Explorer for Xbox will support Kinect gestures. Thinking about browsing the web with arms and hands does scare me a little, I’ll end up tiring myself going through Facebook, but then again, I will be able to say that I am doing upper-body workout while browsing the Internet. Rumors suggested that Apple will be bringing Siri integration to an Apple branded TV set, if this were to happen, Microsoft isn’t far behind. The company already has voice commands through the Kinect. Turning this into a personal assistant is missing from Microsoft’s implementation of voice commands, but for the company it isn’t rocket science.

Meanwhile, I still believe, an Xbox 360 with Kinect is the best living room entertainment device.

Subsidized $99 Xbox 360 & Kinect Bundle Official

Last month we covered a story that Microsoft is expected to introduce a $99 Xbox 360 and Kinect on a 2 year contract. The details back then were that this will be an addition to Microsoft’s Xbox line up. Today, Microsoft confirmed that they are indeed bringing a bundle at the price but as of now it is just a Microsoft Store promotion.

The bundle comes with a 2 year Xbox LIVE Gold subscription at $15 a month contract and can only be purchased from a brick & mortar Microsoft Store. While this does seem like a lucrative deal at $15 a month and just $99 as upfront cost, the math suggests in the long run, you end up paying a little more. The current deal is in all likelihood a test run for a cheaper version of the next Xbox. It is quite clear that Microsoft wants everyone to own an Xbox 360 irrespective of them owning an iPad, iPhone, PC or Mac. The technology battle has moved to living room entertainment and compared to both Google and Apple, Microsoft has a huge lead. The details of the $99 Xbox & Kinect bundle are:

What a deal

How to redeem this offer

  • Sign up for 2 year subscription to Xbox Live Gold Membership* at $14.99 per month and receive a 4GB Xbox 360 with Kinect for $99.
  • Promotional offer (Microsoft may terminate this Offer at any time).
In case you wish to opt out of the contract, you can by paying an Early Termination Fee depending on when you decide to terminate the contract.