The UpStream

Xbox Revives Vision, Sony Shows True Colors at Gamescom [Editorial]

posted Sunday Aug 17, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Xbox Revives Vision, Sony Shows True Colors at Gamescom [Editorial]

This week at Gamescom in Germany, we got to see the future plans from Sony and Microsoft for the holiday season and beyond. Specifically, we saw the rebirth of some original ideas, and a little bit of copying and finger-pointing from one of the two.

First, let's start off with Microsoft. The Xbox presentation in Cologne was refreshing in that it brought back some vigor within the brand and gave gamers hope that this generation of console truly can be innovative. Games were plentiful, there was a proven commitment to independent developers and we got to see the Xbox One finally come out of the shell it was placed in since E3. No major vision changes and instead the message was around the fact that the Xbox One is trying to go back to what made people excited for it. While we didn't see a console without an optical drive or the original idea to share games with your friends, in true Microsoft fashion, the company announced it has purchased exclusive rights to the upcoming Tomb Raider game, locking it on the Xbox One for a "duration" of time. When pressed, Xbox head Phil Spencer would not give a specific length of time because, "there are certain things (he's) just not going to talk about because it's a business deal between us (Xbox) and them." This exclusivity combined with the dozens of top titles coming to the platform has brought energy back to the Microsoft brand, which has been slacking in terms of sales performance when compared to the PlayStation 4.

Speaking of Sony, the entire conference seemed to be presented with a chip on its figurative shoulder. The message that was repeated was "this is for the players" however it felt like those onstage were doing it for Sony instead. While the games presented were fantastic, as expected, the underlying tone did not change since E3. Sony is still not a master at the art of subtlety, and again Sony is yelling that the PlayStation 4 is the best console, instead of just proving it is through the console's offering itself.

The good news is that Sony announced an idea we thought we'd never have in this current generation of consoles: digital game sharing. The idea that originally came out of the Xbox camp has now made its way over to the PlayStation 4. The difference is in the implementation, though. While the Xbox One was going to allow unlimited sharing of your digital titles to up to five of your friends for an unlimited amount of time, Microsoft failed to properly relay its vision and message to its fans and all they heard was "DRM", causing Microsoft to backtrack on the plan altogether. On the other hand, the PlayStation will allow you to share a game with your friend as many times as you want, but only for an hour each session. Yes, you'll still need an active Internet connection to do it even if Sony didn't say it outright.

And then there's the post-presentation interview. Speaking on exclusivity, Jim Ryan from PlayStation Europe said that Sony doesn't just buy up exclusive rights.

So do we feel the need to go out and buy outright exclusivity? Probably not. You saw last night (at Sony's press conference) that before the media briefing we showed updated videos of games that we had revealed at E3. That's because we wanted to keep the show itself full of new, fresh things. We think that gave us a good, strong, convincing portfolio of exclusive stuff, and we're happy with that.

But Sony buys up games all the time, especially indie games. Immediately after that statement, Ryan went on to say just that.

...the icing on the cake is that we will go out and look at a small number of games and seek to help the developer make those games as successful as they possibly can, and that support can take a whole range of forms. It can take the form of financial support, it can take the form of having Sean Murray from Hello Games on the stage at E3-there are many ways to do it, and we try not to be prescriptive and say 'this is the template you have to follow, this is the path.'

So, Sony is brushing off Xbox's exclusivity as weak when they turn around and do the same thing. Do you think PlayStation is still bitter over losing the exclusive rights to the Metal Gear Solid franchise? All of this is typical of where we are in this current "console war" and none of it should come across as surprising, especially considering the party of which it is coming from. In the meantime, I'll be waiting to play Final Fantasy XIV and Dust 514 on my Xbox One. Oh wait, I can't, because they're PS4 exclusives.

Xbox Entertainment Studios Looking for New Home at Warner Bros.

posted Saturday Aug 16, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Xbox Entertainment Studios Looking for New Home at Warner Bros.

A couple weeks ago, Microsoft announced the largest round of layoffs in the company's history. While most of the loss will come from the Nokia division, several other divisions saw big cuts as well. One division seeing a full cut is the Xbox Entertainment Studios. Xbox head Phil Spencer announced that XES, founded only 2 years ago and about to release its first set of original programming, would be disbanded.

With a collection of top talent onboard, there is still a lot of value in the studio. Because of this, Microsoft is reportedly in talks with Warner Bros. to transition XES from Microsoft's hands into part of Warner Bros. gaming-focused studio Machinima.

The original plan was for former CBS executive Nancy Tellem, Microsoft VP Jordan Levin and a few other high-level studio heads to remain with Microsoft to keep alive existing projects, such as the Halo television series, produced by Steven Spielberg. However, if the studio is not closed and, instead transferred to another owner, it is likely that everyone and everything involved will be transferred as well. This is even more likely when considering the highest value for the studio is the Halo series and Nancy Tellem.

This move could explain the rumored initial series launch on Showtime, rather than the company's own platforms. If this conversation has been in the works since Nadella took over as CEO, it could be Warner Bros. looking to outsource the release of the show, not Microsoft.

Keeping the studio alive, and merging it with established Machinima would enhance both parties. XES has been focusing on scripted, high-produced content. Machinima has always been focused on unscripted walk-throughs and reviews. With no direct overlap in projects, but an almost 100% overlap in target audience, the content to come out of both have the potential to be enhanced by cross pollination. It could also save a lot of jobs.

FCC Still Looking for Public Comments on Net Neutrality

posted Saturday Aug 16, 2014 by Scott Ertz

FCC Still Looking for Public Comments on Net Neutrality

When the FCC opened up public comments on net neutrality, they were flooded with input. As the deadline, July 15, got closer, they received so many comments that their servers crashed, meaning people wanting to give their input were left in the dark.

In an effort to make it up, the FCC extended the deadline by an additional 3 days. Much to the agency's surprise, comments kept coming in right up to the last moment. This week, the agency announced,

To ensure that members of the public have as much time as was initially anticipated to reply to initial comments in these proceedings, the Bureau today is extending the reply comment deadline by three business days. Accordingly, interested parties now have until Monday, September 15, 2014 to file reply comments.

This could indicate one of several things. First, it could be exactly as they say: they are still interested in getting new input because of the overwhelming response. If this is the case, they might actually be interested in the results. That could mean that they might follow what the public wants.

On the other hand, the agency might just be overwhelmed by the fact that there are people who don't agree with their beliefs. If that is the case, the FCC might be waiting for enough comments to support their beliefs before they can make a decision that might not be the popular one. Considering the agency's indecision on the topic, this possibility is likely.

Hopefully both the comments and the decision will match: the Internet should be equally available to anyone who pays for access.

Xbox One to Finally Get White Console

posted Saturday Aug 16, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Xbox One to Finally Get White Console

One of the things I have wanted since the original announcement for the Xbox One was a white version of the console. My Xbox 360 has always been white, so for me Xbox consoles should be white. It is, of course, just a personal preference, but one that I share with others. A white console was manufactured, but they were a special edition that was reserved for Xbox team, not the public.

At Gamescom this week, Microsoft finally revealed a publicly available white Xbox One. In addition to being the first publicly available white console, it will also be one of two special edition consoles released this holiday. The bundle, retailing for $399, will come complete with a matching white controller and the much-anticipated Sunset Overdrive. Other than the color, though, there is nothing particularly special about this bundle. You will still get 500GB of storage and no Kinect sensor, meaning you will have to add one (available only in black) later. You will receive special Day One game content, though. The bundle launches the day of the game, October 28th, but you can pre-order yours right now.

This is not the only new bundle announced by Microsoft this week. Sitting alongside the Sunset Overdrive special edition comes a Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Limited Edition Xbox One. This one is quite a bit different from the other bundle, though. Instead of a solid color, this console and controller pair will be completely customized - half matte black, half matte grey, with gold accents to match the game's branding. There are also be graphics on both the console and controller to make it match the game even better.

In addition to the physical design, you will get in-game sounds, special content plus, of course, the game itself. What is truly unique, though, is that you will also be rewarded with a 1TB hard drive. This is the first time the Xbox One will be available with 1TB of internal storage; normally you would have to attach external storage to accomplish this. With the proliferation of digital content, more storage is always better. What you will still not get is a Kinect sensor, though the price is that of the standard Kinect bundle: $499. The console releases the day before the game, November 3, but is available for preorder now.

Are either of these special edition consoles what you have been waiting for to pick up an Xbox One? Let us know in the comments.

Intel Teams with SMS Audio to Release In-Ear Health-Tracking Headphones

posted Friday Aug 15, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Intel Teams with SMS Audio to Release In-Ear Health-Tracking Headphones

As we've talked about on the show, the health tech space is growing so rapidly that government agencies are now afraid of it. That means the industry is doing quite well. It also means we're seeing new and cool ways to implement health features into technology products, as well as some interesting partnerships. This all happened when SMS Audio and Intel joined forces this week to launch a new line of in-ear health headphones.

SMS Audio, the lifestyle brand of headphone backed by rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, has released a new smart headphone that will be able to measure your heart rate, which will be powered by Intel. Intel mentioned in January at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that the company was looking to get more involved in integrating health metrics into consumer products, and the SMS Audio BioSport In-Ear Headphone will do just that.

During the launch party, the two companies said that the new product will cater to runners, sprinters, exercise enthusiasts and anyone looking to improve their lifestyle. It was clear from the event that Intel is trying to outdo the current health tech competitors out there, taking subtle jabs at Nike+, Apple and Samsung throughout the evening.

Michael Bell, corporate VP and New Devices Group GM at Intel, said,

Intel is focused on driving innovation in the wearable technology segment by partnering with lifestyle brands like SMS Audio that complement our technology and design expertise. With SMS Audio, we will bring smart headphones to market that eliminate the inconvenience of add-on devices with an integrated, one-device fitness accessory offering high-end style and premier sound quality for an exceptional fitness experience. This is a prime example of Intel driving innovation in wearable devices while being a forerunner in merging lifestyle and technology.

We should expect the BioSport earbuds to launch sometime around holiday season. Intel said the headphone will be able to monitor your heart rate at any time so that the program will be able to identify workout habits by recording all of that data. There will be an accompanied app that will give out health tips and exercise advice in order to get the customer motivated to workout each day. Plus, the headphones will have the same high-quality sound that the SMS line has been known to have, essentially giving you the best of both the health and sound worlds. Additionally, the headphones are also water and sweat resistant, which is something some exercise products forget to include.

While pricing has not been announced yet, are you excited for these headphones? Would you try them out? Let us know in the comments.

CBS to Begin Producing Straight-to-Internet Content

posted Sunday Aug 10, 2014 by Scott Ertz

CBS to Begin Producing Straight-to-Internet Content

It would appear that CBS is joining the Internet-first production concept, joining the ranks of Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. The difference is, CBS does not own a distribution platform like these companies, but will, instead, take advantage of their already strong presence to distribute their content.

Speaking on an earnings call, Les Moonves said,

(CBS) will be producing more and more shows for more and more outlets, including major streaming companies and other emerging distributors.

Diversifying their distribution network seems like a great idea for CBS. As the era of appointment television is coming to a close, offering content on networks designed to offset appointment television will prepare them for the future. Joining multiple platforms, which is something unique to CBS at this point, will help them reach an audience that is already wildly distracted by various competing outlets.

While I may use 3 of the big 4 platforms (Redbox being my exclusion), most people probably only subscribe to a single platform. By partnering exclusively with a single platform, CBS would be severely limiting their potential audience for new programming. Diversifying content distribution is something CBS is already familiar with, though, as Moonves explained.

We are programming for Showtime, for the CW, for other cable networks and for other broadcast networks including a straight-to-series order for ABC.

By creating original programming for Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, CBS would simply be expanding their already extensive distribution network. The question is, will they keep up the already high standard they have set for themselves? How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory have been big draws for the broadcaster, but will that quality standard carry over to their Internet experiment? We can hope, but only time will tell.

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