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Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft CES 2011 keynote

Steve Ballmer was on stage tonight for his traditional CES opening keynote. Here are some of the highlights:

Netflix for Kinect is coming in Spring 2011. Hulu Plus for KINECT is coming too.

avatarKINECT: This looks pretty cool. The idea is that KINECT watches you and translates the face recognition and facial expressions it sees into an avatar, that you can use to chat with friends online. avatarKINECT is coming this Spring for free for Xbox Live Gold members.

There are now 30 million Xbox Live members, and a new member joins every two seconds. Microsoft has sold over 50 million 360s worlswide. Over 8 million KINECT sensors were sold in the first 60 days.

Fable Coin Golf is joining Halo Waypoint and Crackdown on Windows Phone 7.

Copy & Paste and app performance improvements are coming shortly. Sprint and Verizon will get Windows Phone 7 devices in the first half of 2011. Windows Phone 7 now has 5,500 apps, with 100 being added every day. There are also 20,000 registered developers for the platform. No sales figures were given for Windows Phone 7, make of that what you will.

Microsoft is selling 7 copies of Windows 7 every second. Windows Live has 500 million users and Hotmail is still the largest email platform in the world. A selection of funky new laptops and tablets were then shown off, which you can check out in the gallery below.  Microsoft had nothing significant to announce in the tablet space, that part of their strategy looks to be sorely lacking.

The next version of Windows will run on Intel, AMD, ARM, TI OMAP, Nvidia Tegra and Qualcomm architectures. We saw the 1080p Ironman trailer running on the next Windows on a Tegra System-on-a-Chip and it was buttery smooth, with the ability to instantly seek within the trailer.

There’s also a new Surface PC with a technology called Pixelsense that turns every pixel into a sensor. Surface is still just for commercial uses, but as soon as I can get one in my living room as a coffee table I’ll be a happier gadgetlover.

Neil Berman


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Jan 5, 2011 Posted by | CES, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kinect for Xbox 360 review

KinectArms a-flailin’, legs a-kickin’ and heads a-bobbin’. That’s the view that Kinect gets as you and your pals progressively lose your inhibitions.

The genre of action gaming, made groundbreakingly popular by the Nintendo Wii, has taken a while to migrate to the Xbox and PS3. Finally with Sony’s Move and Microsoft’s Kinect, the wait is over. So has the wait been worth it?

First impressions of the Kinect

The Kinect ships in a thankfully small box, which is easy to carry home for instant gratification purposes. Inside the box, the Kinect sensor takes up most of the space, with a setup guide, the Kinect Adventures game and a one piece cable with power and USB connectors in there as well.

The Kinect sensor is actually smaller and more premium looking than I was expecting. It’s a glossy black plastic affair, with a rubberized base that helps it perch on top of your favorite TV. The main unit is connected to the base with a little silver neck.

The setup guide is easy to follow and installation took just a few minutes as the Kinect progressed to calibrate itself by looking around and listening to ambient noise in the room. An automatic update was also downloaded during the installation process. After that I was all set.

Using the Kinect

When you start up an Xbox 360 with the Kinect installed, the regular dashboard appears and then the Kinect needs another few seconds to start up. You can then interact with the Kinect by waving a hand in the air or by talking to it. Both methods work well, but the voice control likes a quiet room to help the Kinect to understand what you’re saying.

The regular dashboard scoots away and the Kinect dashboard, or Hub as it’s known, appears. From within the Hub you make selections either buy holding your hand steady over a tile for a couple of seconds or speaking the name of the tile you want to engage. I expect most people will choose hand waving, unless you have a quiet room in which case vocal instructions are a viable option. The hand waving is intuitive and easy to use; the first time I tried, I didn’t hold my hand steady for long enough and the selection didn’t engage. But when you get used to sticking a steady hand in the air it becomes second nature.

Once you’ve engaged the Kinect into action, we hit the first hitch. Unfortunately only a few of the Xbox’s capabilities are available through the Kinect Hub. You can access the game disc currently in the drive, a very limited amount of DLC such as ESPN and some other video content, but that’s pretty much it. There’s no access to Netflix or the remaining bounty of good stuff we’ve come to love from the living room friendly world of Xbox.

I would expect that the Xbox dashboard and Kinect Hub will converge in time as more Xbox apps become compatible with the Kinect. But at the moment it feels like we are in the dangerous territory of having two parallel software interfaces coexisting on the platform.

I’ve been using the Kinect with two launch titles: Dance Central, which seems to have been the most popular title so far and Kinect Adventures, which ships with the Kinect. I’ll start with Dance Central, which is a dance game that fills the dual role of being both amazingly good fun and getting you in shape.

Dance Central includes a decent selection of songs that have their own dance moves. As you progress through the game learning the moves, the Kinect tells you how good your dancing is and is very responsive to your movements. You can slow down the action if you’re having difficulty nailing a particular step.

What makes Dance Central so amazing is that I completely forgot that the Kinect sensor was even there. I felt like I was interacting with the game tutor in my own private dance class. There was nothing to hold or wave, no sensor mats to walk on, nothing strapped to my body relaying information. The beauty of the Kinect is that when games work well, they’re wonderfully immersive.

After a good shot of not dancing very well, but sweating profusely, I turned to Kinect Adventures. This bundled game is a collection of simple active games that do a good job of showcasing the Kinect’s ability to track multiple players with fun games. There are five mini games in Kinect Adventures that all require active play. Kinect Adventures is a mild to very active game; at the extreme end of the scale Reflex Ride will have you jumping constantly to propel a cart, while dodging obstacles in your path. It’s a non-stop sweat ride, in a good way.

Some of the games, like Rallyball, demonstrate how Kinect can sense the arrival of a second player and turn a game instantly from being a one player into a two player game. It’s seriously cool to see your avatar walking into the Rallyball court and just start to play alongside the existing player. You can then walk off and the game continues, but with one player.

Kinect Adventures lacks the depth of Dance Central, but is a more immediate and better party game. It’s also free with the Kinect, and plays better than you might expect of a free game.

Some Kinect downsides

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. If you’re expecting the Minority Report experience (I wasn’t but I continue to live in hope), then brace yourself for disappointment. Precogs do not ship with the Kinect at this time. Joking aside, the hand gestures work well but lack the fluidity of the Minority Report aspiration. Ultimately the Kinect sensor has to be able to figure out if you just waving your hand or actually performing a gesture, so the couple of second confirmation period makes sense.

Occasionally the Kinect sensor became confused when two players were in the room. Sometimes it would give menu control to player one and on other occasions it would switch to player two. Not a biggie, but inconsistent.

Speaking of rooms, now we know why the early demos were done in such spacious environments. Kinect likes a spacious room. The setup guide asks for the Kinect sensor to be 6ft away from you for one player games and 8ft away for two players. That’s a stretch in my New York City shoebox, and it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re planning to buy the Kinect to use it in a small room. The distance from my TV to my sofa is just over 8ft and we were able to play one and two player games fine; although during two player games the Kinect occasionally asked one of us to move backward if we started edging forwards during the limb-waving hysteria.

Does Kinect raise the bar for action gaming?

Overall my Kinect experience has been hugely enjoyable. Aside from a couple of minor issues, I’ve been immersed into the game environment in a way that could only be bettered by Tron. Graphically we seem to be a little stuck in Wii-world, so I’d love to see a Call Of Duty for Kinect. That would take the experience to a whole new level altogether.

Neil Berman

Nov 22, 2010 Posted by | Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , | Leave a comment

Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360 hands-on impressions

Kinext Xbox 360 bundleI got some hands-on time with Kinect for the Xbox 360 today.  Actually “hands-waving” is a more appropriate term than “hands-on”, since with Kinect you are the controller.  As a refresher or intro for the uninitiated, Kinect is an upcoming hardware release for the Xbox 360 that turns your body movements into gameplay inputs.  There’s been extensive coverage of the Kinect technology elsewhere so I’ll keep this purely subjective.

Once I learned how to control menus, which is not immediately intuitive, I had a blast with Kinect.  The Xbox 360 responded to my movements instantly, and there was no perceptible lag at all.  After an energetic session my previous concerns about Kinect remain that we might all be too lazy to turn it into an enduring success.  However, just like with the Wii Fit under my sofa, plenty of us will buy one.  I can see Kinect being a big hit for parties and fitness, sports or dance aficionados though.

The Kinect is due to be released on November 4 in the US and is available for pre-order now for $149.99.  The bundle pictured above will sell for $299.

Neil Berman

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Jul 24, 2010 Posted by | Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The dilemma of Xbox Kinect

KinectThe Nintendo Wii took the casual gaming world by storm with its motion control, against most predictions around the time of its launch. With the benefit of hindsight, many now are forecasting huge success for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Kinect, which brings full body motion control to the Xbox.

That’s a fair and logical assumption to make, but here’s the thing about the Wii. After a few weeks most gamers seemed to retreat to the sofa, realizing that standing up for prolonged periods is tiring and the Wii could be enjoyed sitting down with wrist flicks. Let’s not forget that the more sensitive and active Wii Motion Plus never really caught on.

So while I love the idea of Kinect and am guaranteed to buy one, I’m curious about how often I will reach for a Kinect game above a more sedentary experience. That might be a poor reflection upon me, but I reckon that playing a full soccer game using Kinect might just get a little tiring.

Without doubt though it will be great for casual gaming, fitness and a new inspirational yet-to-be-invented gaming craze which I’m already looking forward to seeing.  Who knows, if it really picks us up off the sofa for good it might just fulfill the Wii’s initial promise as a panacea for obesity.

Neil Berman

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Jun 16, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Windows Phone 7 Series analysis vs iPhone, Android & BlackBerry (update: now with video!)

Windows Phone has been struggling in recent years.  Facing an onslaught from Apple, Google and RIM, many would say that the OS formerly known as Windows Mobile has not even been competing in the current marketplace.  Rumors have been flying around about Microsoft starting from scratch with Windows Phone 7 Series and that’s exactly what they’ve done.  And they’ve done it well. Continue reading our in-depth analysis…

Feb 15, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile, Video Features | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Microsoft crashes, then reboots to deliver pre-CES keynote

Things didn’t quite go according to plan for Steve Ballmer and Microsoft at tonight’s pre-CES keynote.  Power failed at startup but after a thirty minute reboot we were fully operational.

Steve was on form with some great Windows 7 stats, revealing that there were an incredible eight million beta testers during 2009, including yours truly.  Steve didn’t mention me by name; perhaps next time ;-)

Some important announcements followed, including the news that Project Natal would be born to the 2010 Holiday Season.  This groundbreaking gaming controller has the potential to be a game changer, using TV mounted cameras to turn your body into a game controller.  Pricing is still to be confirmed; let’s pray for good content to get the best out of this promising technology.

On the wireless front there was no mention of Windows Phone 7, but the HTC HD2 is coming to T-Mobile in the US.  This 1GHz Snapdragon-powered phone is as good as it gets right now on the Windows Phone platform, so it’s great to see this device coming to a major US carrier.

Ceton’s quad HD CableCard tuner was also demo’d, which allows recording of four simultaneous CableCard-encrypted channels within Windows 7 Media Center.  Could this finally propel WMC into mainstream living rooms?  I’d say probably not, because this functionality has existed for unencrypted channels for some time now.  However it’s a great step forward for WMC enthusiasts and takes this excellent home media platform even further ahead of the competition.

There was also a great looking HP slate on display (main picture) along with a couple of others.  Microsoft is clearly taking this emerging sector seriously as everyone awaits Apple’s potential entry.  No details were available on the HP slate, except that it is coming our way soon.

On the Xbox 360 gaming front, Halo Reach looks solid and Microsoft believes it has created a new psychological thriller game genre in Alan Wake.  This new game is said to play like a real life movie, I’ll live in hope but will hold judgement for now.  Microsoft also announced Game Room which is a retro gaming platform for the Xbox 360, giving access to over a thousand arcade games over the coming three years.  Game Room looks great, but I was left wondering whether this is really a viable offering, given that most of these games are already available through compilation releases.

Enjoy the shots in the gallery…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 7, 2010 Posted by | CES, Computing, Gaming, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, Mobile, News | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

theONbutton@CES – Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft Pre-CES Keynote

p10304161Steve might not have come on stage last night in a blazing storm, but his Keynote was packed with content, a frankly hilarious Xbox song from Tripod but unfortunately no Zune phone.  Here’s a summary from the front row…

  • Windows 7 Beta available now to MSDN and TechNet subscribers.  Due to be available to everyone on Microsoft.com on Friday this week.  I’ll write about it as soon as I find a spare PC…
  • Halo Wars (strategy game) and Halo 3 ODST (similar to current Halo 3 but with new storyline) were announced.  See Halo Wars screenshots on today’s earlier post.
  • Windows Live Hotmail, Messenger and Photo Gallery have been packaged into Windows Live Essentials and will be preinstalled on Dell PCs, together with Live Search
  • Live Search will also be installed on Verizon Windows Mobile phones
  • Microsoft sees continued development and take-on of seamless communication between PC, TV, phone and the internet cloud
  • A partnership with Facebook now pushes Facebook updates to your Windows Live profile
  • Windows 7 cool features demo’d: Play To allows you to stream media to play on any device in your Homegroup or stream from them.  Snap to side allows easy comparison of windows side by side.  Multitouch looks pretty awesome for map and photo manipulation, but is not in the Beta build.
  • Kodu Xbox 360 online community game creator was demo’d and looks like a lot of fun.
  • Netflix queue control from Windows Mobile phones is coming soon.
  • Internet Explorer 8 will hook-in with Hotmail to provide add-ins such as restaurant finders, whose results can be inserted directly into emails.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 8, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Microsoft, News, Software | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – Halo Wars Screenshots

Here are some first-look screenshots from Halo Wars for your deeelectation and deeelite, following Steve Ballmer’s announcement of the game in last night’s Microsoft keynote.   Enjoy…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 8, 2009 Posted by | CES, Gaming, Microsoft | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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