News from the video game industry for the week of April 5
Every Sunday, MacNN and Electronista take a moment to look at some of the notable stories in the world of gaming. This week, Sony says goodbye to the PlayStation Home virtual world, Blizzard starts up the beta for StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void, a report claims the original Xbox could have been given away as a free console, and Microsoft is discontinuing the second-generation Kinect for Windows sensor.
Microsoft retires original Kinect for Windows sensor
Microsoft is planning to phase out sales of the original Kinect for Windows sensor in 2015. In a blog post spotted by Slashgear, the availability of the improved version 2.0 sensor and SDK 2.0 has prompted the company to put to an end sales of the preceding model. Microsoft warns that business customers with "commitments to the original sensor" should get in contact as no more original sensors will be produced once the current stock sells out.
Kinect costs more than bundle price reduction, will come with Dance Central Spotlight
Since the release of the Xbox One, Microsoft has experienced a rough relationship with consumers due in part to the Kinect. When the company ditched the sensor and dropped the price of the console by $100, sales were said to have doubled with the new the $400 sensor-less console option in place. However, now Microsoft says that it's seeing a demand for the Kinect. On a post on Xbox Wire today, the company said it would begin offering a standalone Kinect unit on October 7.
Company says that sakes figures are up from May according to internal data
It seems that dropping the Kinect as a requirement for buying a new Xbox One is paying off for Microsoft. Posting on the Xbox Wire, an internal blog for Xbox news, Microsoft is boasting that sales of the new console have doubled since removing the sensor in June and reducing the price to $400. The increase could mean an gain in awareness and consumer desire for the console, which has lagged behind the PlayStation 4 in sales for months.
Mid-air hovering, tapping of tiles, gesture control said to be coming to Windows Phone soon
Windows Phone could soon allow users to interact with their devices without pressing an onscreen button, claims a report. Kinect-style features such as navigating by hovering a finger over part of a display may in fact form part of the experience of a rumored Nokia device codenamed "McLaren", set to be launched and released towards the end of this year.
Microsoft Store starts selling Kinect-less Xbox One for $400
Microsoft has started to sell an Xbox One bundle without Kinect through the Microsoft Store, as the company continues to compete against its high-selling competitor, the Sony PlayStation 4. Announced last month, the console is being sold as a secondary package without the motion and voice-based sensor bar priced at $400, representing a saving of $100 off the original bundle's list price.
Xbox Live Gold subscription will not be required to stream movies on Xbox consoles
Microsoft will allow users of its game consoles to watch video streaming services and use a number of other functions without paying for the Xbox Live Gold subscription, the company has announced. At the same time, it is also preparing to sell its Xbox One game console on its own, separate from the bundled Kinect sensor bar, in a bid to increase sales.
New Kinect for Windows sensor accompanied by new SDK
Microsoft has updated the version of the Kinect for Windows, bringing it in line with the Kinect used in the Xbox One, the company has revealed. The new sensor bar will ship sometime this summer alongside an updated software development kit, with Microsoft also preparing to make it easier for developers to provide members of the public with Kinect-enabled Windows apps.
Apple closes deal for Kinect technology developer
Apple has completed the deal that will see it buying Israeli gesture recognition company PrimeSense for roughly $350 million. Israel's Globes reported on Sunday that the deal had closed, with the company's founders pulling in tens of millions of dollars from the acquisition. Rumors of Apple's interest surfaced earlier this year, and reports emerged last week that it was imminent, but Globes now claims that the deal has indeed closed, and for $5 million more than had previously been reported.
Apps can be snapped to side of screen by verbal commands
Microsoft has shown off how its Xbox One game console will work for multitasking between games and apps. A short video demonstrating quick switching and actions by voice commands through Kinect also shows how game players will be able to use multiple apps at the same time, as well as sharing content with other users.
Xbox One launch between PlayStation 4 launch dates in US versus UK
Microsoft today announced that the next iteration of the Xbox console, the Xbox One, will be available in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, UK, and the US on November 22. While the list of launch countries has been pared somewhat from what was originally announced, the company notes that "many more markets will follow in 2014."
Change latest in Microsoft's frequent modifications to console pre-launch
In yet another modification to information promulgated at its debut, the Xbox One is now launching in fewer countries in November. The list of countries has been pruned to 13 countries, down eight from the previous 21. Cut from the November launch are Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Kinect still bundled with console at launch, but can be disconnected
The Xbox One has seen some significant changes since its unveiling. The latest modification today, promulgated by Microsoft, reveals that while the device ships with the Kinect, the device is no longer required for the next-generation Xbox to function. Chief product officer Marc Whitten said in an interview today that "the console will still function if Kinect isn't plugged in, although you won't be able to use any feature or experience that explicitly uses the sensor," similar to the Kinect's functionality on the Xbox 360 now.
Apple makes $280 million offer for PrimeSense, 3D sensor maker
Apple is rumored to be in the early stages of negotiations to acquire PrimeSense, the company behind the technology in the first generation Microsoft Kinect sensor. The Israeli-based company first shopped the original concepts behind the Kinect to Apple in 2010, but negotiations fell over quickly after Apple insisted on legal deals and nondisclosure agreements that PrimeSense felt were onerous. “Apple is a pain in the ass,” PrimeSense CEO Inon Beracha said at the time claiming that it didn’t feel the need to get tied down in Apple’s red tape at the time, especially when it had significant interest from other companies, including Microsoft.
Xbox One must connect to Internet daily for offline games to function
Microsoft has clarified its stance on a number of controversial features of the upcoming Xbox One. The company confirmed that the game console will need a connection to the Internet every 24 hours in order to play games, as well as advising on used game sales, game rentals, and the privacy concerns for the improved Kinect sensor.
New sensor to have improved camera, skeletal system
Microsoft will be releasing an updated version of its Kinect for Windows sensor next year. Following on from the launch of the Xbox One and its inclusion of a new Kinect interface, the add-on for computers will have a number of matching improvements and a new software development kit, thanks to its shared technology set with the console version.
Prototypes said to have Kinect-style motion controls
Microsoft is looking to create a set-top box for media playback, according to one report. Continuing previous rumors, the software giant is working on a device that will allow users to sign onto Xbox Live and use its apps to view streaming video, effectively cloning the non-gaming aspects of the Xbox 360 game console into a relatively-cheap product.
Dashboard app allows for Kinect motion controls, voice recognition
A new Microsoft Xbox Live app, scheduled to launch on April 23, will allow users of the gaming and media service to order Pizza Hut products directly from the Xbox 360 console. The new app gives customers access to the restaurant's entire menu, and features full Kinect integration in addition to voice recognition, or regular game controller use.
Microsoft offers 250GB Xbox for $99, with Kinect for $150 with Xbox LIVE subscription
Microsoft is expanding its subsidy for the Xbox 360 console that started with the 4GB model back in May. Now, there are three choices, with potential buyers capable of picking the 4GB console with Kinect or a 250GB console without for the same $99. The third option adds Kinect to the 250GB console but bumps the price of entry to $149.
Kinect gets a $40 price drop in the US, similar cuts coming to most other markets
The Kinect motion-sensing accessory for the Xbox 360 has received a $40 price drop in the US, with prices now set at $110. Other markets are due to get a similar though unspecified price drop as well, including North America, Latin America, Asia, and Pacific regions. Australians and New Zealanders won't get a price drop until October 4, however.
A leaked image suggests the Kinect 2 will work with improved depth-of-field and use more movement data than before. The image surfaced on a Twitter feed run by @superDaE, apparently showing perceived depth as seen from the sensor. The two subjects viewed appear to have a higher level of detail than the current version of the Kinect is capable of producing, suggesting the system will measure movements with higher degree of accuracy.
Toyota, Unilever, Samsung among first to participate in NUads
Microsoft later this year will roll out a new ad platform for video streaming services on its Xbox 360 console, presenting users with interactive experiences instead of the static ads seen on television. According to the Los Angeles Times, the new platform—dubbed NUads—will initially feature partnerships with Toyota, Unilever, and Samsung Mobile. The ad move is viewed as part of a larger Microsoft strategy to steal viewers from television networks and establish the 360 as the center of the living room experience.
Kinect to serve happy people vacation ads
A recently revealed patent application from Microsoft shows that the company may be working on bringing mood-based advertising to its Kinect peripheral for Xbox. The patent, filed in 2010, describes a method for serving ads based on a user's mental state as perceived by Kinect's 3D camera system or other technologies. Microsoft suggests the technology will help advertisers more accurately target their ads, which could conceivably improve their effect.
System is not ready for retail, tracks items to within five inches
University of Virginia researchers have developed a Microsoft Kinect-based system that keeps track of items as they are moved about the home. The project, Kinsight, uses several Kinect sensor bars running in parallel to give input to the server running the software. While radio-frequency item-locator technology already exists, the researchers claim that the Kinect system was between four and 16 times cheaper than RFID equipment cost based on a same-sized area.
Startup uses Kinect to make existing displays into 3D touchscreens
Startup company Übi has been showing off a tech demo utilizing Microsoft's Kinect camera to turn walls into interactive touchscreens. The Munich-based startup says that the technology can be applied to virtually any surface, allowing users to interact with presentations without the need for pointers, clickers, or mice of any kind.
Kinect gets new capabilities ahead of Windows rollout
Microsoft has updated the software development kit for its Kinect sensor, adding facial expression recognition and other capabilities to its 3D camera system. The update comes ahead of Microsoft's release of the Kinect for Windows SDK, which will bring the Kinect's feature set from the Xbox 360 to Windows desktops and notebooks. The update is largely in keeping with what Microsoft previously revealed as forthcoming features for Kinect.
Leap Motion unveils motion control for Macs and PCs
Leap Motion has taken the covers off its new motion-tracking device for computer interaction. As the video (embedded below) demonstrates, the device maker shows off how the device could potentially replace a mouse and keyboard in a number of computing and gaming contexts. The size of a small flash drive, the Leap is said to be able to allow users to control a computer in three dimensions, tracking natural hand and finger movements down to 1/100th of a millimeter.
Joule accessory will measure, record heart-rate
Microsoft is preparing an addition to its Kinect accessory for the Xbox 360 that will track a user's exercises across multiple Kinect games, The Verge learned from its sources. Called Play Fit, it will upload numbers to online storage and thereby be accessible from anywhere. A new hardware accessory will be made available as well, dubbed so far as the Joule.
Xbox 360 and Kinect bundle subsidized by 2 year contract
The previously speculated Xbox 360 bundle deal from Microsoft has been confirmed to exist. A voucher for the bundle has appeared on the Microsoft Store website, showing a 4GB Xbox 360 complete with Kinect for $99 and a two-year, $15-per-month Xbox Live Gold subscription.
Researchers turn Kinect, plastic tube into 3D telepresence tool
Researchers at the Human Media Lab at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario have developed a hologram-like teleconferencing model that uses Microsoft's Kinect system to enable live, 3D teleconferencing. In a manner reminiscent of Star Wars' hologram messages, users are able to get a three-dimensional view of their conferencing partner.
By Justin King
Microsoft is reportedly preparing to offer a $99 Xbox 360 bundle that will include the Kinect sensor, subsidizing the upfront cost and tying buyers to a two-year subscription. Unnamed sources have told The Verge the company will require an agreement that works like a cellphone contract, requiring buyers to pay a termination fee to cease monthly payments before the end of the term.
Augmented reality table uses lasers, Kinect, more
NUI Group forum member Bastian has created a touch table that uses a projector and Microsoft's Kinect sensor to make it appear as if a user is touching objects floating in space. According to Hackaday, there are also four infrared laser involved to track the hand, making for an effect of a 3D holographic display. Kinect tracks the user's head in relation to the table, allowing the projector to adjust the image accordingly.
Lenovo investment Eedoo makes costly motion gaming
A recent Lenovo investment, Eedoo, is drawing criticism for the upcoming launch of China's first mainstream motion gaming system, the CT510. Pitched as a family entertainment system, the system is conspicuously like Microsoft's Kinect add-on for the Xbox 360 but is intended more as a general device with HD movie playback, karaoke, and motion-driven exercise apps. At $600, however, it costs more than the $399 US price of Microsoft's most advanced Xbox 360 and Kinect bundle.
Special edition hardware first online, then off
Both the look and the release date for the Xbox 360 Celebration Pack were briefly visible online today, as Amazon.co.uk accidentally posted the information online. VideoGamer.com discovered the online leak, now removed, which revealed a Union Jack-skinned console, Kinect sensor, and controller.
Kinect patent hints at augmented reality
A Microsoft patent application revealed on Thursday could, if granted, bring automatically adjustable three-dimensional audio to Kinect gamers with surround sound systems. In addition to the possible audio benefits, the patent implies that the Kinect may be an even more capable attachment than Microsoft previously let on.
Skype seeks development engineer with Xbox focus
The Skype team is looking to bolster its ranks by posting a job listing which references the Xbox gaming console. Based in its London office, the position tells little about exactly how the video, voice, and text chat service will integrate into the platform hasn't been revealed. The Software Development Engineer will contribute to the development of experiences on Xbox, the listing reads.
Apple continues ongoing 3D camera tech
Apple job listings have shown that Apple is still actively researching 3D visual display and capturing technology that would extend to its iOS devices. An iOS Software Engineer position is looking for a doctorate holder who can handle "cameras and surfaces in a 3D environment" as well as "multi-view stereo and 3D reconstruction." Although it's unclear how long the same technical requirements have existed for the job, employees have been mentioning work in 3D imaging for at least two years.
Next-gen Xbox console to get 16-core CPU?
The next-generation Xbox console, which may or may not be called the Xbox 720, may be powered by a 16-core CPU, SlashGear reported on Friday. That CPU may be branded as IBM Power PC, and be paired with one or two GPUs that has comparable processing power to AMD's Radeon HD 7000. That power will be needed to run next-generation games and the Kinect successor, which is said to be able to read lips and fingertips as well as track multiple players and thus require at least four cores.
Next Xbox may lean on graphics and DRM
A currently uncertain but unusually detailed rumor Monday has Microsoft's next-generation Xbox making aggressive decisions on hardware. Multiple tips to VG24/7 supported AMD's hints of movie-quality 3D graphics with claims there would be two Radeon HD 7000 graphics cores. Rather than simply pair them up to form a single virtual card, as with AMD's usual CrossFire, it would have each core rendering separate objects in the same scene.
PS4/Orbis may get Kinect-like gaming features
The rumored PlayStation Orbis, a codename for the upcoming PlayStation 4, may use a Kinect-like motion sensor to track gamers, according to images posted online at design firm Coque. The illustrations have since been pulled, but have been saved by original rumor source Kotaku and embedded below. The PlayStation Eye, an accessory for the current PS3 console, already has tracking capabilities, though it's not as advanced as the Kinect's sensors.
Kinect for Windows 1.5 coming late in May
Microsoft has just revealed that the 1.5 release of its Kinect for Windows software is coming at the end of May. The most significant change will include what Microsoft calls "seated," or 10-joint skeletal tracking that will give the Kinect cameras the ability to track the arms, head, and neck of a user. This will work both in the near mode for seating as well as the regular, standing mode.
MLB joins cable on Xbox 360
Microsoft took its promised Comcast Xfinity TV and HBO Go support live on the Xbox 360 Tuesday with the extra addition of MLB.tv. Akin to the ESPN app, it gives users the option of watching live and on-demand events, albeit live only for out-of-market games. Kinect owners have the extra advantage of motion and voice commands that can sometimes speed up the action.
Shows interface in preparation for April 1 launch
HBO has begun its marketing push in anticipation of its
April 1 introduction of support for HBO Go on the Xbox 360. As part of that campaign, the video content provider has created and uploaded a video "tease" on YouTube (below). Showcased in the video is the Xbox's ability to use Kinect voice commands to manage the service's user interface.
Beamatron is a Kinect-based AR concept from MS
Andy Wilson, a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, has been busy working with colleagues on a project dubbed Beamatron. It's an augmented reality concept that uses KinectFusion, another Microsoft project, to create a 3D model of a space and build projected graphics onto it. It also gets Kinect to see the room and its many obstacles, as shown in the video below.
Ad-supported content available for free
Vevo has brought its music video library to the Xbox 360, enabling users to access more than 45,000 titles. The content is available in HD resolution and for free, through an ad-supported app that supports Kinect navigation.
Bundle includes two games
Microsoft today announced an Xbox Special Edition 4GB Kinect Family Bundle. The package features a glossy white console with matching controller and Kinect sensor. Included are two game compilations, Kinect Sports and Kinect Adventures.
Kinect may soon sport document, video controls
Microsoft is bringing the Kinect to PCs and recently released an SDK to this effect, but now a USPTO patent suggests it has more in the works for the system. A Seekbar feature will let users watching TV navigate channels and otherwise control their TVs and video with nothing more than their hands. The Seekbar would thus let users to open a seekbar while their other hand drags along it to either fast forward or rewind to where in the video or other content they want to be.
Next-generation Xbox to carry Durango codename
Microsoft is internally referring to the third-generation Xbox console as Durango, Kotaku claimed to have learned from multiple sources near the project. If true, this means any future news and rumors will center around this name, though the finalized name on the console and packaging will differ and isn't yet known. Durango is the name of one of Mexico's 31 states, which follows the theme started by Natal, Microsoft's codename for Kinect and a city in Brazil.
Kinect Star Wars Xbox 360 gets definitive date
After months of extra waiting for the game itself, Microsoft has confirmed that the Kinect Star Wars Xbox 360 bundle will be available April 3. The special edition system will cost $450 and includes a 320GB Xbox 360, a Kinect motion controller, and a copy of the game in question. Both the console and the Kinect have unique R2-D2 theming, while the gamepad is patterned after C-3PO.
Kinect for Windows and 1.0 SDK go live
On schedule, Microsoft has started shipping the Kinect for Windows add-on and its matching software. The sensor lets those on Windows 7, 8, and Embedded use the motion control from the Xbox with optimizations for the PC world, such as tracking subjects as close as 15.7 inches as well as a PC-oriented USB cable. It costs $249 for anyone, although it will cost $149 for educational users later.