Jan 14 2012

News - Rumor: Microsoft Planning Kinect-based Settop Box

Join me, friends, as we take a little stroll down rumor lane. Paul Thurrott of the Supersite for Windows and Windows Weekly fame has related a rumor that Microsoft may be working on a Kinect-based settop box. It would essentially be an Xbox minus the pesky video games, retooled specifically for media streaming. The inclusion of Kinect would allow for voice and gesture control, and presumably leave the door open for living room Skype applications. Thurrott had dropped a similar rumor about an Xbox-based media streamer a few months ago on an episode of Windows Weekly that proved fruitless and readily admits that this current rumor comes from unreliable sources, which means that our stroll down rumor lane is going a bit farther afield than I usually feel comfortable with, but I thought I would pass it along simply because it makes sense and fits with a tidbit I recently received from a completely untested source. Kinect and Xbox have been Microsoft's most popular consumer brands in years and stripping the Xbox of its video game processing capabilities would still leave a very capable media streamer, assuming Microsoft can reduce costs enough to get the price down to a palatable range. Whether or not the product ever comes to fruition, it seems almost certain that Microsoft has at least considered the possibility.

Kinect TV

Speaking of rumors concerning Microsoft's entertainment plans, a number of less reliable sources are claiming that the software giant will introduce a Kinect-based set-top box in late 2012 that will stream Internet-based multimedia, offer motion and voice control, and cost less than $200. It's like an Xbox + Kinect minus the video game stuff, I guess, and is variously called the "Kinect HD," "Live Xbox," or "Kinect Box," depending on who you ask.

Supersite for Windows

Jan 13 2012

News - Microsoft Reportedly Backing Away from Xbox 360 Subscription TV Service

Rumors started floating before E3 last year that Microsoft was looking into offering a subscription TV service that would mix some Netflix-style content streaming with more traditional live and network TV content. Since then, Microsoft has gone on to establish the Xbox as a streaming media apps platform, and unfortunately that is also as far as Microsoft is going to get with the Xbox 360 right now. Microsoft has reportedly given up trying to offer its own TV/streaming service because the licensing costs would have been too high. We will continue to see new content via provider apps and services, but not through an app with Microsoft's name on it. 

After talking to programming partners over the last year, Microsoft recently caught a glimpse of what it would cost to roll out its service and it turns out the addition of current shows and live networks put costs over the top.

Cable companies and program makers are likely offering their content for sky-high prices to either get a huge cut of the pie, or thwart potential Web partners all together in an effort to stay relevant.


Jan 09 2012

News - Microsoft Announces Fox App for Xbox Live

News Corporation

Microsoft may not have had a lot to announce during tonight's CES keynote, but they did have a little bit of Xbox media streaming news in the form of the Fox App. Microsoft has partnered with News Corporation to bring content from the Wall Street Journal, IGN, Fox, and Fox News to Xbox Live. No timetable was given, but it should help Microsoft keep that steady flow of content coming for Xbox Live TV.

Jan 05 2012

News - Microsoft Secures Patent for Game Console DVRs

The inclusion of the Media Center Extender technology in the Xbox 360 has certainly been a boon for WMC fans and was an early indication that Microsoft had bigger plans for the Xbox 360 than just gaming. Unfortunately, the whole "your computer must be on, be running Windows Media Center, be properly configured to talk to your Xbox, and contain a TV tuner card (right in the middle of the transition from NTCS to ATSC)" bit was probably asking too much of most consumers. The rest of us just built a new HTPC. With the Xbox 360 becoming ever more media-focused, it seems almost impossible that Microsoft won't eventually offer DVR functionality, if not for the 360 than its successor. When that time comes, Microsoft will have a patent to cover the functionality, and hopefully some bigger hard drives. Would you be okay with the Xbox kicking your TiVo to the curb?

Xbox Rabbit Ears

The patent identifies it as an application, similar to the apps that have added pre-selected TV content already. However, it seems more likely that this feature would be included in the next iteration of the hardware. 


Dec 31 2011

News - Western Digital Sentinel DX4000 Reviewed

Western Digital Sentinel DX4000

I've been using Windows Home Server since it first launched and was quite interested to see Microsoft building on the basic concept by expanding the line with Windows Home Server 2011, Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials and Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials. All three operating systems share their Windows Server 2008 R2 roots and easy to use Dashboard remote interface. I've had the opportunity to play with WHS 2011 and SBSE 2011, but not WSSE 2008, so I had been looking forward to seeing a review of the OS in action. I missed this review of the Western Digital Sentinel DX4000, the first major WSSE 2008 hardware release, when it first went up, but it's well worth checking out if you are interested in a high-end NAS with a greater focus on RAID, data integrity and uptime.

WD accomplished what it wanted, bringing enterprise grade software and hardware that's easy to use to the SMB with the Sentinel DX4000. As we look at the Sentinel as a potential line of many other NAS devices, Western Digital is certainly pointed in the right direction and poised to be a major player in the NAS market.

Storage Review

Dec 21 2011

News - Xbox Live TV Round Three: UFC, VUDU, DailyMotion and More

In what is beginning to feel like a weekly ritual, Microsoft has released another round of video apps in support of their new Xbox Live TV initiative. The UFC app is the heavyweight in this group, especially with the attention surrounding the big fight coming up New Year's Eve, but VUDU might be a popular addition for movie fans. DailyMotion fills the wide release category that YouTube filled in last week's video app collection with availability in more than 25 countries. There are also a couple of new channels specific to the UK, Australia, and France.

Ballmer on Xbox

We are now a goodly part of the way through the list of content partners that Microsoft initially announced. On their current weekly release schedule, they should be just right to finish up the list during CES, which begs the question, then what? Might Microsoft be timing the releases so that the first wave of apps ends just in time for the announcement of another list of content partners at CES, or can we look forward to a big chunk of Ballmer's press conference being given over to a recap of what they have already released?

Xbox 360 is building on its expansive catalog of movies, sports, television and music and we’re happy to offer* the following new entertainment experiences starting today in various regions on Xbox LIVE:

· 4 on Demand (C4). United Kingdom 
· ABC iView (Australian Broadcasting Corp.). Australia 
· Dailymotion. Available in 34 countries globally** 
· Demand 5 (Five). United Kingdom 
· M6. France 
· MSN Video. France 
· UFC on Xbox LIVE (UFC). Canada, United States 
· VUDU (Wal-Mart). United States

Major Nelson

Dec 20 2011

News - Xbox 360 Dashboard Update Brings Video Playback Issues

If you have been enjoying the new video apps that came with the Xbox 360's recent dashboard update, but feel like your videos seem to have lost their sparkle, you are not alone. Eurogamer responded to the concerns by running histograms comparing RGB levels in screenshots of videos playing on pre- and post-update Xbox 360s and found that after applying the Metro-infused dashboard update Xbox 360 video playback suffers from a limited RGB range output. The result is a washed out image that is also more prone to revealing compression artifacts in dark images. The good news for gamers is that the issue appears to be limited to video playback and does not affect gameplay image quality. I don't personally watch a lot of video content on my Xbox, but I am curious whether anyone else had picked up on this issue?

The new dashboard forces video content to be run at "limited range RGB levels," versus "full range" RGB as the console previously did. The end result is a washed out look that has many videophiles quite unhappy.


Dec 14 2011

News - Xbox Live TV Round Two: YouTube, MSNBC, Verizon FiOS TV, and More

Xbox MSN App

When the Metro-inspired Xbox 360 UI launched last week, it brought along only a handful of the anticipated Xbox Live TV apps. Well, Microsoft has unleashed a bumper crop of new TV apps today, and judging by the number of regional apps launching, there's something for just about everyone. The Verizon FiOS TV app caused a stir when it was announced, and even though it is more limited than what AT&T is running with U-verse on the Xbox, it should be a welcome addition for FiOS subscribers. Folks in Canada get a similar app for Rogers. MSN and MSNBC are now on tap depending on what part of the world you live in. Finally, we also have the YouTube app launching with the broadest reach, reportedly accessible in 24 countries, though you have to figure out which countries yourself. There are still apps in the wings, but at least now we should have enough content providers to get a sense of whether Microsoft is on track. Just playing with a few of the apps, one also gets the sense that Media Center enthusiasts are getting a sneak peek of what Windows 8 will be bringing to the big screen next year as well.

For those of you in the Xbox 360 Dashboard preview program, some of this stuff is old hat, but for the rest of us today's launch of a dozen new applications on the Dashboard is allbrand new. Beyond the addition of YouTube, FiOS TV, and TMZ (can we give that one back?), Xbox 360 users get access to MSNBC content, iHeartRadio (actual radio!), and a handful of other services starting today.


Dec 13 2011

News - Microsoft Mulling Original TV Content for Xbox Live TV

Ballmet on Xbox TV

Microsoft is still in the process of rolling out TV apps for their new Metro-infused Xbox 360 UI and the attendant Xbox Live TV services, but Microsoft is evidently already looking ahead and considering developing their own original programming. Reportedly two former NBC executives have already been approached about coming on board with Microsoft, which would make some sense given the close relationship that Microsoft and NBC have enjoyed over the years. If Microsoft is still in the executive hiring phase, then any original content is still years away, but it would be an interesting move. We are already seeing Netflix and YouTube trying to differentiate with original programming and Microsoft is currently positioned to time such a content launch with a new console launch. Is anyone else excited about the prospect of a Steve Ballmer sitcom?

Microsoft has hired Tom Schneider, a partner at Stratis LLC, to conduct the search, said the people, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Two former NBC executives, Marc Graboff and Jeff Gaspin, have been approached, they said.


Dec 07 2011

News - Xbox 360 Metro UI Goes Live

It's been two months since Microsoft got official about their plans to bring more television and media services to the Xbox 360 along with a revamped Metro-style user interface. Microsoft has started rolling out the update, the most extensive Xbox 360 makeover since the NXE update in the fall of 2008.  The visual appearance of the new UI is striking, though it will quickly become apparent to longtime Xbox 360 owners that the two most important category changes are the new Bing category and the overhauled Apps category. 

The Xbox 360 has allowed Kinect owners to control the system with voice commands for some time, but the integrated Bing services extend this functionality by providing a central interface for searching for apps and media by voice or text and providing direct access to every part of the system. Over in the Apps category, the previously available media provider apps such as Hulu and Netflix are still available and have been joined by a handful of new apps such as EPIX and SyFy, with more coming over the next month. The big change here is the Apps Marketplace and attendant framework. The Apps Marketplace not only brings all of the Xbox apps and services together in one place, but will undoubtedly be the mechanism by which Microsoft will continue to add services to the Xbox and expand the system as a platform in the broader Microsoft ecosystem.

I've been playing with the new interface for a few weeks and have been generally pleased with how it exposes content, though I am interested in seeing how the apps evolve over time. With so few new apps, it is still too early to gauge. What are your thoughts on the new UI and apps?

So, why all the excitement over a relatively minor update? This year's Dashboard update includes a major remaking of the system's underpinnings, one that enables future content updates that are indeed actually very interesting. And starting in late December, not this week, numerous hardware partners will begin offering a wide range of TV and entertainment content though the console, though again the selection varies depending on where you are and—more troubling—on which content partners you already have relationships with.

Supersite for Windows

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