The most striking takeaway from a recent meeting I had with Xbox Music GM Jerry Johnson wasn’t the Spotify-like service he was in New York City to show off, but rather what he said about a much larger internal change at Microsoft. Having been relegated to the world of video games for the past decade, Microsoft is opening up its Xbox branding to a larger world of media. “‘Xbox’ is actually going from thinking about gaming in a device to being the entertainment face for all of Microsoft,” Johnson said — a major change from the Xbox name’s place as a stand-in for “the Halo and Gears of War box,” trotted out once or twice annually by lower level execs from the Washington-based software giant. “That’s what the company — all the way up to Steve Ballmer — have gotten behind. That’s why you’re gonna see movies on Windows 8 slates, you’re gonna see music, and it’s gonna be branded as ‘Xbox.’,” he explained. This naming convention carries to Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 RT as well — all post-Windows 7 Microsoft devices (and Xbox 360) will refer to music and video libraries as “Xbox Music” and “Xbox Video,” respectively.
Sure today’s Microsoft E3 keynote was jam-packed full of high octane explosions, but the biggest excitement from the hardware-free event was arguably SmartGlass, a new technology from Redmond that promises to help to bring together users’ diverse array of screens. When it was initially leaked ahead of the event, SmartGlass looked to largely be a somewhat straightforward AirPlay competitor. Judging by Microsoft’s flashy demo video, however, the company is clearly looking to build it into its own beast all together. Thankfully, we got to play with it a bit — albeit for a very short amount of time, given the fairly early state of the technology.
Let’s start thing off by clarifying a big question surrounding the somewhat enigmatic demo that we saw at today’s event: yes, SmartGlass gives developers the potential to turn smartphones and tablets into a controller for the Xbox 360. As suspected, it will likely be integrated into more casual games — after all, we shudder at the thought of controlling, say, Halo 4 using just a touchscreen. As is the nature of the product, the company isn’t letting the details flow too freely here, but in a demo we saw of the technology tonight, a Microsoft rep name-dropped a title called Home Run Stars — a baseball game, as you’ve likely already gathered from the fairly straightforward name.
Microsoft’s SmartGlass gets official: app brings AirPlay-esque streams to Android, iOS and Windows Phone
Microsoft may not be introducing a next-gen console at E3 this year, but it is teaching its venerable Xbox 360 some new tricks. SmartGlass brings AirPlay-style wireless technology to Xbox and Windows 8 by letting you send video from your tablet or phone to your TV. It then turns that second screen into an information window giving you data of the content you’re watching. Plus, it updates the info on your mobile device as the content on the TV changes. The app also enables peripheral controls for games you’re playing — so you can scroll through different plays on your tablet while playing Madden on your big screen, for example.
In addition to providing your peripherals with contextual awareness, the SmartGlass app turns your phone into a remote and trackpad for your Xbox, in case using Kinect and regular controllers aren’t something you’re into. So, you can pinch to zoom, move the onscreen cursor and scroll to your heart’s content in Xbox’s new web browser using your tablet or phone. When will we be seeing SmartGlass in living rooms? Unfortunately, not until this fall, so our liveblog photos of the app in action will have to suffice until then.
Say goodbye to Zune, folks. Microsoft has just announced its brand new Xbox Music service during its big E3 presentation. That brings with a library of more than 30 million tracks, which you’ll be able to access across all of your Microsoft devices, including your PC, Windows 8 tablet and Windows Phone in addition to the Xbox 360 itself. Expectedly, that all comes wrapped in a Metro-style interface, but it appears to basically be a Zune rebrand beyond that, with few other surprises to be found (at least for now).
Xbox 360 software at E3: FIFA 2013 / Madden 2013 gaining Kinect voice commands; Halo 4, Fable, Forza Horizon and Gears of War showcased
No new hardware for Microsoft at E3? No problem. Clearly, this year’s all about software for the Xbox 360, with both FIFA 2013 and Madden 2013 confirmed for release with Kinect support. Aside from letting you flail to and fro in order to make plays, both titles will also support voice commands, right down to understanding multiple dialects in the former. As for Madden? There’s some pretty intense voice integration, enabling one Joe Montana to actually call plays and direct the huddle with his voice here at the E3 stage. The demo was unsurprisingly awesome, and we’re told to expect it on store shelves on August 28th. For those who aren’t exactly “sports-inclined,” there’s also Fable and Halo 4 — two titles that’ll supposedly make this year the “best ever” for Xbox 360 software.
We’re still waiting for the Comcast Xfinity TV app to appear on our Xbox 360 dashboards, but word is its beta tests have expanded to cover more Microsoft and Comcast employees, and it could launch as soon as the next week or so. In case you’re wonder exactly what its capabilities will be when it will arrives, a post over at AVSForum points out a support page that’s already live and details both the requirements for service and content available. Customers that have Xbox Live Gold and both internet and video services from Comcast will be able to log into the app with their ID and view video on-demand (no live TV) including free videos, national broadcasters and premium channels. That includes access to HBO Go (which will already have an app) and additional content from Max Go, as well as other premium stations — basically the same lineup currently available on the Xfinity website. Also notable is confirmation that the cross-provider content search Microsoft is so proud of will apply here, and that any video viewed through the app won’t count against those 250GB data caps Comcast has in place. Hit the link below for all the answers currently available, we’ll wait until its actually launched to try out the promised Kinect voice and gesture control features.
Turtle Beach announced a duo of new XBOX 360 and PS3 gaming headsets on day one of CES, and we were able to spend a bit of time with one of them, the XP400, on the show floor. It’s Turtle Beach’s flagship gaming headset, featuring adjustable Dolby 5.1 virtual surround sound, a non-AD2P dual-pairing Bluetooth radio for picking up phone calls during gaming sessions, a 15 hour rechargeable battery and dual-band 2.4/5GHZ built-in WiFi.
The actual over-the-ear pieces have a much better layout from previous models, though there are almost as many buttons as there are on the controller you’d be wielding — with volume up / down, chat volume up / down, mute, Bluetooth pairing, limiter button and tone buttons. The included dual-band WiFi adapter that connects to your gaming console of choice is small and pretty minimalistic in design. The adjustable surround angles feature seems useful but we can’t help but to feel it’s a bit gimmicky — we have a hard time figuring out which setting is better. One feature that we really like is the new Limiter function, which allows you to keep the volume relatively high to listen for those footsteps (lower in volume) but won’t blow your ear drums out when a RPG rocket (explosion-like volume levels) hits you in the face. The sound was also crisp and loud as we completed our spec-op mission at the Turtle Beach gaming booth, where the headset’s noise-blocking abilities proved to be particularly handy. Hit up the gallery below for a close look at the $220 gaming headset set to be available this quarter.
The Xbox 360′s most recent dashboard update changed everything around again, but its ultimate effect will continue to be felt over the next few weeks and months as more apps trickle out and add more functionality. A few more selections just went live today, and include highly anticipated options like UFC’s PPV app, and access to Vudu (pictured after the break — also, there’s no HDX support yet, just HD) movie streaming. That’s not all however as they’re also joined by 4 on Demand (UK), ABC iView (Australia), Dailymotion, Demand 5 (UK), plus M6 and MSN Video (France). Also recently announced are plans to bring Orange TV in France to the Xbox 360 in the spring with live streaming of thirty TV channels and VOD access later. For its part, Vudu is trying to entice new customers with a $4.99 credit towards their first rental or purchase, plus a few other promotional pricing incentives. Check the press release after the break for more details, or just power on your console to see the channels that are available in your neck of the woods.
It’s only available to those in the Xbox Live preview program at the moment, but you can officially add the Xbox 360 to the list of platforms that offer access to YouTube videos. Beta participants should be now able to download the app from the console’s new Apps Marketplace, and find all the usual personalized features you’d expect from YouTube, plus the Kinect controls you’d expect from an Xbox app. Still no word about a roll-out to everyone else, nor is there any word on a firm release date for all those other new video services slated to hit the console (they’re still just promised for “later in December”).
Earlier this month, Microsoft announced a new slate of Xbox Live partnerships with Verizon, Comcast, and a host of other content providers. Now, the company has unveiled new details about the code upon which these new apps will run. Sources close to the situation tell GigaOM that the new framework, code-named “Lakeview,” will be based on Silverlight, but will also bring a few new features from Xbox Kinect, including voice recognition and gesture-based controls. More intriguing, perhaps, are insider claims that Microsoft’s new content partners stream video using Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming, rather than Redmond’s Smooth Streaming. GigaOM‘s sources went on to say that Microsoft has been introducing major changes to the platform over the past few weeks, in the hopes of having it ready for third-party developers once the Xbox Live update rolls out. Spokespersons for Xbox and Silverlight said they have “nothing to announce” about the new framework, though GigaOMreports that Redmond is aiming to release the update on Black Friday.
Microsoft announced new integration with live TV as a part of the Xbox 360′s fall update during E3 earlier this year, but didn’t name any US pay-TV partners at the time. Now, anonymous rumors recently posted on Digiday suggested the folks at Redmond were looking to work with Verizon and Comcast, followed by Bloomberg hearing similar talk from its own “people with knowledge of the situation.” Today’s rumors finger Verizon (which showed off live TV on a variety of devices at CES), Comcast, HBO, Crackle, Bravo, Syfy and UK service Lovefilm as likely partners. Missing from the list is AT&T’s U-verse, which already offers an Xbox 360 tie-in and distributes its IPTV on the Mediaroom platform, just like some of the international partners previously announced. If these services launch it will be interesting to see how the integration works and if it’s VOD like the existing Xfinity TV and Flex View mobile apps, or if providers cross the IPTV bridge with in-home devices like the Televation / AnyPlaybox.
If you scored yourself Vuzix’s Wrap 1200 side-by-side 3D video eyewear last month, you may want to know the company’s VR variant is now available for $600 (about 100 bones more). With the Wrap 1200VR, you’ll again be viewing a simulated 75-inch, 3D (or 2D, if you’d prefer) 16:9 display at ten feet away. The shades feature a single 852 x 480 monitor per eye and support input resolutions of up to 1280 x 720. The VR bit comes from the included Wrap Tracker 6TC with compass, which enables head-tracking with three degrees of freedom. Better yet, its coupled drift control should maintain silky smooth visuals when you’re tilting your noggin’ to scope out the on-screen action. Out of box, these specs are said to play nice with most Windows machine’s graphics cards and VGA connections, but adapters are required to rock them with your PS3 or Xbox 360. If your eyes are already tearing up with joy, you’ll find full details in the PR just past the break.
Autumn is fast approaching — and you know what that means: it’s round about time for an Xbox Dashboard update. Sure, we got a peek of Microsoft’s upcoming harvest back at E3, but the good folks from Redmond invited us to take a closer look at what they’re calling the “most significant update to the Dashboard since NXE.” Senior project Manager Terry Ferrell was on-site to walk us through an early engineering beta and show us how an updated Metro UI, Bing search and deeper Kinect integration is going to change the way folks manage their entertainment content.
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Creative isn’t nearly the aural force it once was, but it’s still a respected name when it comes to headsets and — gasp! — sound cards. Here at IFA, the outfit has busted out a new range of Sound Blaster (yeah, seriously) gaming headsets for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and Mac platforms. The 360-friendly Sound Blaster Tactic360 Sigma is being revealed with a steel core headband design and 50mm audio drivers, not to mention separate voice and game audio controls. Moving right along, the Tactic360 ION slims down with a pair of 40mm drivers, while the Tactic3D Wrath Wireless caters to Mac / PC users who’d rather not sweat the whole “cable” thing. The Tactic3D Omega Wireless does likewise for console gamers, and for those infatuated with three-dee, the outfit’s new Recon3D audio platform / sound cards sound give you reason to celebrate. Full details are posted up after the break, for those who find themselves strangely intrigued.
If we didn’t already know those cats were mad about customizable controllers, we just got a reminder: the Mad Catz Major League Gaming Pro-Circuit Controllers. These professional-grade PS3 and Xbox 360 controllers allow competitive gamers to adjust the gamepad’s weight and swap out key components — such as exchanging the controller’s analog stick for a D-pad. Want your PS3 controller to have a Xbox 360 layout? No problem. If the insane kitty’s ambitious Onza competitor isn’t your thing, check out the MLG Tournament Edition Fightstick, featuring the same Sanwa Denshi components used in Japanese arcade cabinets. It may not have its sibling’s stick-swapping action, but its 13-foot controller cable, classic layout, and left-right stick toggle mode (for emulating the missing analog thumbstick) still aims to please. The Arcade Fightstick can be had now at the GameShark store to the tune of $160, but the Pro-Circuit gamepads aren’t due out until closer to the end of the year.
Turns out, the home of Mario and Sonic is still a tough world to penetrate for Microsoft’s gaming division, despite its near-decade presence in the market. While homegrown Nintendo and Sony products receive much of the love and Yen, newly-hatched industry outsiders are left to fend for themselves. Having finally broached the one million mark in Japan for its five-year-old console, MS is shifting the focus to its Kinect launch failures. Unsurprisingly, the full-body motion control accessory hasn’t jump-kicked its way into as many Japanese hearts and households as the Ballmer-led company would like, so it’s shuffling the deck at its Japanese outpost in order to spin the strategy a bit differently. Announced via press conference today, Takashi Sensui — former head of the Home and Entertainment division — will now oversee the newly created Interactive Entertainment Business division. Also in the works are some very culturally-tailored IPs for the Kinect platform: the Suda51-produced Codename D and a version of Steel Battalion from Capcom. Whatever the result of this renewed push may be, it sure won’t be long before Microsoft gets to give Japan the old next generation college try. After all, third time’s the charm.