The Xbox Reveal was upon us today and the live event showed us what Microsoft has in store for the next generation of the Xbox. Don Mattrick opened up the show to introduce us to the incredible stage and started off by going over the highlights of Xbox's life. All of it, he said, leading up to this point, which was a turning point for Microsoft.
To continue to lead, we must provide compelling answers to new questions.
Games, TV, Internet, hardware and software services that put you in the center.
And with that, he introduced the Xbox One. Putting aside the fact that both the terms "One" and "X" exist in at least another 12 tech devices that I can think of off-hand, the Xbox One, albeit a bit big, has an aesthetically pleasing look and feel to it, with a brand new Kinect and gaming controller to compliment it. So, what is the Xbox One? Well, Mattrick said the new-generation console was "Simple. Instant. Complete." No longer does one even have to switch inputs on your television to go from playing a game to watching a movie. Xbox One lets you control that, and a bunch more, all with your voice. Taking the enhancements of the console even further, Xbox One will also start to recognize your tendencies and what you like, serving it all up for you on the very personalized new home screen, which of course, looks very similar to your current dashboard and Windows Phone 8 devices. Microsoft even went on to slightly touch upon their definition of "always-on," in that the Xbox One is powered by the cloud, so you never have to worry about waiting to download an update when you want to play a game. It's very similar to the PS3's update system, except the Xbox will do it whenever you're not on, rather than at a set time each night.
A nice little touch is the fact that the Xbox's always-on approach gives you variable power states, which can be controlled all from your voice, by asking the Xbox One to turn on or off. I also really liked the "Trending" tab, which let you see what's popular amongst your friends, as well as what's happening around the games you play. We were able to see a little bit of a demo with the One's new media-switching as well, which worked seamlessly, quick and efficiently. The voice commands and gestures didn't feel forced, and you could easily move from music, to movies, back to your game and then even into Internet Explorer without missing a beat. Even better, all of it picks up where you left off.
How does that all happen? Well, the Xbox One, as we've expected for a while, is running off the Windows 8 kernel, which means it comes complete with some very nifty and ever-needed commands for the Xbox, like Snap. Just by saying "Xbox, Snap (Program Name)," you will "pin" whatever program you want to the side, allowing you to multitask on Skype, fantasy sports and more. We got to see group video calls while watching ESPN, and even got to check out our fantasy team, league standing and highlights, all while watching the live game. This is all done under the Xbox One Guide, with a Smart AI and speech recognition system, with improvements that will rival the recent enhancements found in the Google speech software. And speaking of media, I should mention that the NFL will now be available on the Xbox One, as part of a huge partnership that will see Microsoft products on NFL sidelines throughout the league.
Then, we got into the specs a little bit. Rivaling the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One is complete with an 8-core processor (rumored to be AMD), 8GB of DDR3 RAM, USB 3.0, Wi-Fi Direct, a Blu-ray player and HDMI in
and out, for set-top box pass-through. The Xbox One's x64 architecture also allows for three operating systems: Xbox One, Windows 8 and the middle tier, which allows you to switch easily between the two interfaces. Sound like Windows 8 and desktop mode, anyone?
For the Kinect, they've done a complete overhaul on the cool little gadget to allow it to make use of the new processing power of the Xbox One. From Microsoft,
It's more precise. More responsive. More intuitive. Its unparalleled voice, vision, and motion technology lets you reach into games and entertainment like never before. Automatically sign in when you enter the room. Accelerate through a game with subtle gestures. Or navigate through your favorite TV shows with the sound of your voice. It's an entirely new Kinect for a new generation of entertainment.
The three technologies, Real Vision, Real Motion and Real Voice, all play a factor to give the Kinect a 1080p camera, with more depth range and more sensors. There is also more joint detection, heat detection and even the ability to recognize when you squeeze your hands together or not.
The new controller also got an excellent upgrade, or 40, rather. WiFi direct and impulse triggers are only two of the great additions, among the redesigned look and feel of the handheld, which kind of resembles the MadCatz extreme gamer controllers that we've seen in recent years, complete with highly-textured thumbsticks. If you've bought one of the recent controllers from Microsoft, especially the ones with the transitional D-pad, you'd have noticed the sub-par thumbsticks, that just feel loose and poorly made. So, this is a huge improvement.
Lastly, SmartGlass is no longer an afterthought and is the third piece of the Xbox One interaction trifecta. With 10 million downloads already under the SmartGlass belt, the software is now designed to integrate natively with the Xbox One. The SmartGlass app also works hand-in-hand with the Snap features mentioned earlier, allowing you to navigate with your touch screen, and pinch and tap to surf the Web on your TV through the console.
Rounding out the full-on turbo-charged enhancements that Microsoft has made was the information about their server upgrades, built-in DVR console and an API and standards guideline for multiplayer matchmaking. We were told that when Xbox started, there were 500 servers, and today we're at 15,000. For Xbox One, there will be a staggering 300,000 servers to power the fleet of consoles. Talk about raw processing power. The built-in DVR console will allow you to record and publish your most dominating in-game moments, making your friends jealous. It will also come complete with an amazing search feature, to find the exact clip you want, and you can even search via a well thought-out stats system. For the matchmaking API, it would appear Microsoft was tired of the disaster that is
Call of Duty, and has now given developers a system that will streamline multiplayer and make each game more similar and easier to navigate.
While we were given a full 60 minutes of ground-breaking announcements and features, many users felt the presentation lacked games, which I would agree. However, this event, unlike the PS4 event, was definitely geared towards the casual consumer, and of course retailers and investors, who will have more speaking power in terms of dollars and sales, as opposed to the hardcore gamer. Obviously, we'll see a more game-centric approach to a presentation at E3, so the bashing of the presentation we saw this week is a little unwarranted. Even with the great event, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered.
What we don't know, officially at least, is the actual release date, price and if there will be more than one SKU for the console. In the post-panel discussions and interviews, we learned that the Xbox One will unsurprisingly not have backwards compatibility, which includes the Xbox Live Arcade titles. There has been a lot of speculation, and no exactly confirmed word from Microsoft, on what level of Internet-connection will be needed to play. Adam Sessler reported that "some modes" won't work without a connection, but Id imagine that the console will require some sort of periodic handshake with the servers, considering the level of cloud support that is being used for this generation of Xbox. Finally, there has been no statement from Microsoft on the state of used games, other than that Microsoft is "designing Xbox One to enable customers to trade in and resell games," and they will "have more details to share later." My speculation would be that Microsoft will not stray too far from the PlayStation 4 boat, in order to stay competitive, and that unless we see Sony and Microsoft both form a pact to eliminate GameStop, there will be an ability to play used games on the Xbox One. In regards to this "fee" rumor that has been floating around since both the "it'll be named 720" and "you can't ever use it offline" rumors were both debunked, Microsoft has left it to the statement above, however, again, I'd imagine it will be one in the same for both of the big two.
At any rate, excitement, speculation and anxiety all now run rampant for the next three weeks until we see more about the Xbox One at E3. I, for one, would like one of these consoles in my hands as soon as robotically possible, and have no qualms about any of the issues that most of the faux journalists and online gamers are griping about. We'll surely be discussing the Xbox Reveal on our show on Sunday, so be sure to
check it out!
Hit the break to follow along with today's Next Xbox announcement and commentary from the team.
Yahoo wasn't afraid to make Monday about them; starting the day announcing
a purchase of Tumblr, they kept the missing vowels going by announcing an overhaul of Flickr. Having owned the brand for ages, Flickr has had a hard time staying relevant. The interface has gotten clumsy and difficult, making images hard to find, which is a bad idea for a photo sharing site. All of the problems changed, however, when CEO Marissa Mayer made a challenge to make Flickr useful again.
One of the best ways to make people want to use Flickr is by not downscaling photos. The image quality that you upload is the image quality that will persist on the site. Of course, this means that storage will be a premium; with the 15GB offered by most photo sites, there is no way to store all of the photos a professional might have at full quality. Luckily Yahoo thought of this, as well, increasing storage to 1TB per user. That is not a typo; 1 TERABYTE per user of photo storage for FREE. At 16MP, that is over 250,000 photos per person.
With the increase of storage, the Pro version of Flickr has been discontinued. How does Yahoo plan to handle the other missing features of Pro? By offering the features a-la-carte. If 1TB is not enough for you, you can double it for a small fee. If your intention is to use the service as a professional, you can also pay to turn off advertisements.
All of this is nice, but what about the interface? A major overhaul, from start page to photo view page, has put a focus on photos and minimized everything else. Anyone who knows about color theory knows that black background make colors pop, so photos are now displayed against a black background. Gone are the days of thumbnails, replaced instead by rows of uniformed height and margin, larger images, representing both sets and photos. When you look at the screen, you feel like you are looking more at a collection of photos than a website.
We have some screenshots of the new interface after the break. Once you see the screens, let us know if you plan on giving the new Flickr a try in the comments.
Yahoo began their
previously announced press event by talking about the confirmation made earlier in the day, that Yahoo has purchased Tumblr. The announcement came as no shock to anyone; the rumors had been circulating all week about the talks, even including pricing. As it turns out, all of the rumors were correct, with the deal being finalized and pricing falling within the expected range.
One of the biggest concerns about a company like Yahoo purchasing a brand like Tumblr is always whether or not the purchaser will ruin the brand. We have seen many purchases of this type go badly. Take, for example, Yahoo's purchase of Flickr. Before the purchase, Flickr was the place for photographers to show off their work; after the purchase, Yahoo had changed the service so much that it was unrecognizable. The product had gotten so difficult to use that books were written to explain the functionality; certainly not what you would expect from a casual use photo site.
Marissa Mayer, Yahoo's CEO, recognized this trend in the industry and made a bold statement. She said, in regards to the purchase, that she promised "not to screw it up." That says a lot about the company - they are aware that they have done wrong in the past but want to work to correct it. Only time will tell as to how well this will work, but their commitment seems strong. After analyzing how previous successes and failures have gone, the decision was made to keep Tumblr as a separate group, managed independently.
Tumblr will remain so independent that the team will not be moving into Yahoo's new Times Square offices with the rest of the Yahoo, but instead will remain in its current location. The best example of an acquisition that was at least usability-wise successful was Google's purchase of YouTube. The same decision was made in that case, and YouTube, for the most part, has been a successful pairing for Google. While no major input was made from Google in to YouTube, Google was able to use YouTube's user base to enhance its own search result relevancy. YouTube's emphasis within Google's search results, however, has been a point of contention for the government,
resulting in an anti-trust suit.
My guess is that Yahoo intends to use the data generated by Tumblr to help enhance the relevancy of their top stories for the homepage and mobile news services. As Yahoo enhances their other services, making their homepage more relevant is a major task; it could be the difference between Marissa's turnaround plan being a success or failure.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the organization that bring you the International CES each and every year, has remained on the forefront of setting standards, practices and policies to each sector of the consumer electronics industry. From convincing politicians to enact laws to protect the space, or to educate consumers on the latest tech trends and things that affect the masses, the CEA is a very important organization for anyone who owns or operates a piece of technology. This week, the CEA has stepped in to announce that are working on a new standard for smart energy and connected homes. This would include all Internet-connected devices in your house and any energy-saving tech gadgets, along with the entire home automation space.
Named the R7.8 Working Group 2, the standard will help the gadgets in your home send energy usage data to and from energy managements apps and systems. In the announcement, the CEA said what the name of the standard will be and how it will all work moving forward.
The new standard will be called CE-Energy Usage Information (CE-EUI) and will conform to the North American Energy Standards Board Energy Usage Information (NAESB -EUI) model, which forms the basis for the national Green Button initiative.
If you're not familiar with Green Button, here's what it's all about,
Green Button is the common-sense idea that electricity customers should be able to securely download their own easy-to-understand energy usage information from their utility or electricity supplier. Armed with this information, consumers can use a growing array of new web and smartphone tools to make more informed energy decisions, optimize the size and cost-effectiveness of solar panels for their home, or verify that energy-efficiency retrofit investments are performing as promised. Consumers can even use fun innovative apps that allow individuals to compete against Facebook friends to save energy and lower their carbon emissions.
Brian Markwalter, Senior VP on research and standards at CEA, said,
Product manufacturers already understand how much energy a device will use during operation, based on its design. By programming that information into the device and enabling the device to calculate how much energy it uses over time, manufacturers can help homeowners accurately capture the data for their energy management systems and applications.
In the end, this is all happening to finally bring a level of compatibility to the Green Button "Download My Data" and "Connect My Data" programs. The best part is that the system and standard will allow devices to work over Wi-Fi, Ethernet, ZigBee and Z-Wave, which all exist in one device or another in a house, but at this time, cannot talk to each other. It seems that now that the CEA is behind this, utility companies will be quick to adopt the program, with a standard in place, and bring the companies into the new era of technology.