Last week before the sad news of Steve Jobs death, Microsoft announced their partnership with various living room content providers. Under the deal, Comcast, HBO and Verizon will start streaming content on the Xbox. With this news, I think it safe to call Xbox as the Windows of the living room. Unlike Google TV and Apple TV, the Xbox (with Kinect and Windows Phone) is a more complete platform for living room entertainment. Fun family games, hardcore gaming, music & movie streaming and cableâ€”that’s the 360 degrees of multimedia and entertainment.
Kinect’s voice and gesture control along with the soon-to-be-released Windows Phone app to control the TV via Xbox brings the much needed interaction overhaul from the button remotes we’ve all be using for the past two decades. In a patent filing I came across, Microsoft plans to give shopping the Kinect treatment. A while back Microsoft showed avatars of a group of friends sitting together and streaming a video, the friends were all their houses. The patent application titled Motion-based interactive shopping experience brings these elements together and a user controlled avatar will be able to interact with objects in the virtual world, much like how playing a game on Kinect is.
The patent appliction as some very interesting possibilities:
You shopping for yourself by trying out the clothes and seeing how you’d:
If you like to shop with a friend, two users can shop together:
If you want to buy furniture, Kinect will re-create a 3D model of your room and show you how the furniture will look like in your room!
Gears of War 3 is a spectacular conclusion to one of the most memorable and celebrated sagas in video games. The game is now available for pre-order before the official launch in India on September 20. You can place your order at the Microsoft India Online Store as well as select retail outlets across the country. There’s more good news: with all pre-orders, you can redeem an additional multiplayer character.
Developed by Epic Games exclusively for Xbox 360, Gears of War 3 plunges you into a harrowing tale of hope, survival, and brotherhood. The trilogy comes to an end with this new addition starring Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad. Gears of War 3 features an enthralling cinematic story with an unparalleled gameplay. It pushes the envelope for stunning visuals on Xbox 360. The game will be available in two editions: standard and legendary edition at an estimated retail price of INR 2499 and INR 3499 respectively.
To mark the launch of the game, Microsoft has also announced an online gaming challenge. You need to register your team at http://www.facebook.com/xbox360india. Only two teams will survive the online challenge; and will be a part of an immersive GoW3 gaming challenge in Delhi. The two squads will be flown to Delhi to reveal Gears of War 3 at the launch party. All members of the winning team will get a Kinect sensor each, Gears of War 3 CDs, and exclusive Gears of War merchandize. Runners up will get a GoW 3 CD each with exclusive Gears of War merchandise. The three runner-up teams will win exclusive Gears of War merchandize. Even if you are cheering for one of the teams, you stand a chance to win some Gears of War T-shirts and limited edition posters.
Kinect Fun Labs lets you discover and play with the newest advances in Kinect technology. These innovative applications (called gadgets) showcase new advancements in the controller-free device’s technology. Kinect Fun Labs was launched at the E3 conference earlier this year, and has a growing catalog of controller-free experiences. This week, Kinect Fun Labs is launching two new experiences: Avatar Kinect and Kinect Sparkler.
Kinect Fun Labs plans to release new gadgets on a regular basis. The gadgets are meant to showcase innovations in Kinect technology in an approachable way. These fun, creative experiences allow consumers to get a sneak preview of interesting capabilities of Kinect today instead of waiting until it’s in full-blown games.
Avatar Kinect is available today and lets you interact with your friends via your personalized avatar. You can hang out with up to seven other friends in 24 virtual stages ranging from a late-night talk show set to outer space to a sports tailgate party. Kinect’s camera tracks gestures and facial expressions eyebrow raises, smiles, belly laughs and all.
Avatar Kinect makes cyber socializing more real. Apart from random conversations with friends, you can host virtual events or create your own animated shows. Avatar Kinect is free for Xbox LIVE Gold subscribers who have Kinect. It is also available to non-Gold subscribers for 45 days to try.
Kinect Sparkler, available later this week, lets players use their fingers to draw sparkling lines that whirl glowing, gold stars in front of, behind, and around 3-D photographs of themselves. Kinect Sparkler will cost 240 points on Xbox LIVE.
Users can share creations from both Avatar Kinect and Sparkler with the wave of a hand on the Kinect Fun Labs Live friends feed or uploading to KinectShare.com. KinectShare allows users to share their creations on Facebook or via email. It also allows users to download their creations to their computers.
Till a few months back I used to look at new job openings within Microsoft to find information about their new products, now I am searching for a job. Going through the new positions, I came across one where Microsoft talks about updates to the Xbox.
There is little known about what Microsoft is planning. The Xbox 360 has so far been getting incremental hardware upgrades and many are thinking about how Microsoft will be furthering the boundaries of innovation in entertainment with a new Xbox – the Xbox 720. A recent job opening describes Microsoft’s plans to reduce the (production) costs of an Xbox. The Xbox team hopes to get this done by designing a new motherboard for the Xbox.
For those keeping tabs, with the Xbox 360 Slim or Xbox 360 2010 Microsoft introduced a new motherboard design codenamed Vejle. Vejle’s single chip design (CPU+GPU+Memory) allowed engineers to improve the cooling for the console and also with the on-chip memory, one could access more features without an HDD or memory card. Microsoft is looking to improve this design. The job description explains:
The team is responsible for the design and aggressive cost reduction of the console throughout the life of the product as well as expanding the market for the console in derivative products.
The responsibilities of this position are focused on specifying, designing (schematic capture, PCB layout, BOM, cost analysis), implementing and verifying subsystems on the Xbox motherboard. This includes development of subsystem requirements by working with team members evaluating different solution options for functionality, cost and risk, developing the solution, implementing it, verifying it and supporting it in production. […]
The hardware design for computers has seen radical changes and it is now becoming an engineering challenge to keep systems cool, reduce size and perform better. It will be interesting to get a look at how Microsoft engineers achieve this.
Impulse Technology Ltd., an Ohio company has sued Microsoft in Delaware’s federal court alleging that the Kinect for Xbox 360 infringes on seven of its patents. Kinect for Xbox 360 is a motion sensing input device for the Xbox 360 gaming console that enables users to control and interact with the gaming console using only gestures and spoken commands. The suit alleges that Kinect infringes on Impulse Technology’s patents for technology for tracking and assessing movement skills in multidimensional space.
Kinect is based on software technology developed internally by Rare, a subsidiary of Microsoft Game Studios owned by Microsoft, and on range camera technology by Israeli developer PrimeSense. The Kinect sensor provides full-body 3D motion capture, facial recognition, and voice recognition capabilities.
The suit claims that Impulse Technology informed Microsoft of their patents in March 2011, however, Microsoft has still indulged in direct, inducing, and contributory infringement.’ The seven patents have been issued from 2001 to last year. In addition to Microsoft, a slew of other companies who make games designed for Kinect – including Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Sega, and Konami – were named as defendants.
Impulse Technology is seeking a permanent injunction, damages, treble damages, interest, attorneys’ fees and costs. Microsoft hasn’t commented on the specific charges. The suit was filed on July 1, 2011 and was recently reported on Law360.
Kinect was first announced on June 1, 2009 at E3 2009 under the code name Project Natal and was launched in the US on November 4, 2010. After selling a total of 8 million units in its first 60 days, the Kinect holds the Guinness World Record of being the fastest selling consumer electronics device’.’
KinectEDucation is a community-driven initiative for developers, teachers, students, and other education stakeholders to promote the use of Kinect for Xbox360 for gesture-based applications for teaching in classrooms. The project aims to pioneer this new dimension of learning in education and invites the community for making contributions, whether it be an idea, code, suggestion, or anything else relevant to the use of Kinect in education.
The project is a brainchild of Johnny Kissko, a leading expert at integrating innovative technology in existing learning environments. The project was inspired by KinectHacks with a vision of gesture-based learning applications in classrooms within the next few years.
As yet, FAAST, a free software developed by the Institute of Creative Technologies was recommended. The software allows anyone to develop Kinect-friendly applications by creating key bindings. Now that the official Kinect SDK (Software Development Kit) is available for PC, developers can develop their own applications for the PC and Xbox that employ Kinect’s gesture-based functionality and can transform learning in classrooms.
The project aims to take existing applications like Google Earth or calculator or even a piano and integrate them with Kinect. This would help develop and deliver gesture-based learning opportunities with the bank of software already in existence.
The project is open-source and involves the community for the benefit of public education. Integrating educational Kinect applications represents a blended classroom model, where innovative learning opportunities can be explored within the controlled setting demanded by the structure of public education. You can contribute to the community in several ways:
- Download and post Kinect applications for education
- Participate in forum discussions
- Showcase real-life examples of Kinect in education
Advertisements are a major source for revenues and one would expect ads to evolve with the platform they are being served on. Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect is about body gestures and voice, like iOS is about touch. For iOS, Apple introduced iAds, an advertising platform for app developers to create apps that offer an interactive and beautiful experience for the user. Similarly, Microsoft seems to be planning their own advertising platform for the Xbox that will leverage Kinect’s capabilities.
Called NUAds, which I assume could mean Natural User Ads (NUI or Natural User Interface is something Microsoft has been talking about for quite a while.) A recent trademark application filed by Microsoft explains what NUAds is:
Advertising services, namely, promoting and marketing the goods and services of others through online interactive video games by enabling consumers to interact with third-party advertising content through voice or body gestures via computer game console and sensor devices
As the description explains, NUAds will be in-game advertisements where the user can interact with the products or features being advertised using Kinect’s body tracking and voice control. Even though a lot of us don’t like ads interrupting our activities, adding gesture control could change the experience.
Microsoft will be having some policies on how game publishers will be using NUAds and we shall share more information as we get it.
This is the future of advertisements, Minority Report style.
A lot was showed during Microsoft’s E3 keynote and as it turns out, some of it was left out too. Director of Programming in the Xbox team, Larry Hryb shared on his blog two features to be introduced in Xbox that weren’t talked about on stage at E3. One feature is about adding social to gaming and the other is making it easier for gamers to access their data.
Xbox 360 will be storing saved games on the cloud making it easier for a gamer to continue his game when he is not on his console. The fine print on the service is unclear but I would assume that this will be part of the Xbox LIVE Diamond or Gold subscription. It could even be free for all users. Currently, users have to save their data on the Xbox HDD or a portable drive, with cloud storage, the need for physical storage has been reduced.
Cloud storage will allow users to sync their Xbox profile including Microsoft Points, achievements and friends.
A new social element added to the Xbox 360 gaming experience makes it easier for gamers to tell their friends what game they would like play. Larry explains Beacons as:
Beacons are a way to tell your Xbox LIVE and Facebook friends that you want to play a game on Xbox LIVE. By setting a Beacon, you tell Xbox LIVE what you want to play. Then, Xbox LIVE lets you know when friends are playing or want to play the same game. With Beacons, no matter what you’re currently doing on Xbox LIVE your friends know that it’s ok to ask you to play your Beaconed games.
At their E3 keynote, Microsoft introduced a major update to the Xbox 360 dashboard. The update includes a new interface and deeper Kinect integration.
The dashboard now looks a lot more like Zune with tiles and navigation categories at the top. The Metro UI is now part of Windows 8 (tablet), Windows Phone 7 and the Xbox. The live tiles are updated with relevant information.
Microsoft’ s decision engine is slowly becoming an integral part of the company’s product portfolio. Bing is an important feature in Windows phone 7 and today Microsoft integrated Bing’s search capabilities in Xbox 360. The Bing interface on the Xbox is elegant and coupled with voice control, searching your catalog and the Internet looks fun.
With Bing, a user can search within apps like YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, ESPN and Xbox LIVE Marketplace to find relevant entertainment content.
With Kinect integration, Microsoft has now enabled voice control throughout the Xbox. Voice commands can be used with Bing to search within apps for content.
Live TV and YouTube
Microsoft has promised subscription based TV services starting this fall in the US. Currently, Microsoft has partnered with Sky TV in the UK, FoxTel in Australia and Canal+ in France for live television in the respective countries. In addition to subscription based local TV content, Microsoft will be streaming martial fights under Ultimate Fighting Championship and feature some exclusive UFC videos.
Microsoft has been able to strike a deal with Google to bring YouTube to the Xbox 360. This allows users to access the huge repertoire of videos on the website using voice control in their living room. Looks like Google just lost a reason to sell Google TVs.
As spotted by Tom Warren, the dashboard update has an apps section with Marketplace. The apps are the currently available third party services integrated in Xbox. As the people at This Is My Next noticed, live TV has a tile named My DVR.
Images courtesy This Is My Next and Microsoft PR
The rumors about an Xbox branded mobile entertainment device as successor to the Zune HD while competing with Apple’s iPod and Sony’s Playstation are growing. A month ago I spotted Microsoft filing for three trademarks:
- Fusion Vault
- Fusion Sentient
- Fusion Genesis
These three trademarks had computer game software as their description. Microsoft enthusiasts have found that Microsoft owns the domain name XboxFusion.com which has led many to believe that Microsoft might be either announcing:
- Xbox Fusion as their new portable device, or
- Xbox Fusion will be the amalgamation of Zune services and Xbox LIVE.
In my opinion, Fusion is most likely a game. As excited I would be to see Microsoft announce a new mobile entertainment device before Apple announcing their next iPod line up, I am sceptical. However, my patent findings show a new connector design from Microsoft. The connector looks different from what the Zune HD has and was filed in May 2010, indicating that it is a recent design. Here’s a comparison of the new connector and the Zune HD connector:
Zune HD connector (image courtesy eforbuy.com)
The size of the male and female ports leads me to believe that the connector is meant for mobile device. Maybe we will see a new mobile entertainment device from Microsoft called Xbox Fusion with three exclusive game titles called Vault, Genesis and Sentient?