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Microsoft attempts to enter living room space with Windows Set-top box

Posted in TV and Digital Entertainment by Manas Ganguly on January 5, 2011

Not so long ago, practically all of Microsoft’s profits came from selling Windows and Office. Everything else, including Zune, Xbox and all that it does online, barely was break even for MS. However, with new age computing taking over (tablets and smartphones), Microsoft has not been able to hold the sway and its cash streams are challenged. That is where Microsoft needs to look at domains beyond computing to make money.

2011 could be the most significant year in Microsoft’s history. Sample this:
A year and a half after launch, Bing has started giving Google some serious competition in Search
WinMo resuscitates itself and impresses to gain ground on the iPhone and Android
• This CES, Microsoft will make its first serious move into the connected TV space
• Windows 7 moves into the tablet space.
• Then there is Kinect, which is pretty amazing, going way past the cool intuitive approach of the Nintendo Wii with the simple controller by getting rid of the controller entirely.
• There are those who are betting in favour of Windows 8 action and perhaps an early look at wave 5 for Windows Live, but that is slightly overenthusiastic.

Action for MS starts at CES today. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has been a big hit for entertainment and online video, and Microsoft has been trying to court more media companies to the Xbox. However in CES, MS is going to unveil operating system for connected TVs and set-top boxes. This appears to be the company’s response to Apple TV and Google TV. Microsoft has for long cherished the ambition of being able to enter the living room space and its earlier attempts haven’t been so successful. MS’s list of failures in the living room domain includes Web TV, Microsoft TV, Media Room, Ultimate TV and more.

What is expected at CES is that MS would showcase a stripped down version of its embedded device software, overlaid with the Windows Media Center interface, with media streaming and remote-control capabilities.

While the $200 price is a little steep for a Windows set top box, the tag finds comfort in the fact that Windows has some experience in polished and familiar TV-program guide that makes it easy to blend and navigate both online and broadcast content

Microsoft will also be spending a lot of money advertising itself as a powerful player in the consumer space this year, but will those ad dollars gain Microsoft some traction as a “cool” company? So far the “cool” still belongs to Apple and Google, but with the right new products (and those ad dollars) we could begin to see a shift in perception for Microsoft as a consumer company.

XBox Kinect: Real Time Motion Gaming Dawns (Part II)

Posted in Gaming by Manas Ganguly on June 22, 2010

Here’s how this genie works (courtesy Paul Miller):

“Kinect combines a few detection mechanisms to build up a rather accurate and comprehensive amount of 3D data on what’s going on inside a room. There’s a color camera for taking pictures, recognizing faces, and so forth, but the real magic happens with the monochrome CMOS camera sensor that’s paired up with an IR blaster. Microsoft calls this its “depth sensor,” and the light and shadow of that image (lit by the human eye-invisible IR spectrum) is analyzed to build a 3D map of the objects within Kinect’s field of view. Finally, there’s a multi-array microphone setup to detect location of voices and to cancel out ambient noise, allowing for video chats without a headset. All of this sits atop a motorized tilting base of sorts, which when used in conjunction with skeletal and facial tracking, Kinect can pan and tilt to keep its sensors trained on you as you move around the room. One down side of the motorized base, however, along with the rest of the fairly complicated electronics, is that the Kinect hardware isn’t tiny: it’s about a hand’s width tall, about as deep, and around a foot wide. When you think about it, the entire Wii occupies less cubic real estate. It shouldn’t have much trouble squeezing in up in front of your LCD TV, but good luck trying to balance it on top, and we have no idea how folks who hang their TVs on the wall should approach this situation.

One thing that Microsoft has actually left out of Kinect is a dedicated processor. The original plan was purportedly to have the Kinect pull its own load, allowing the Xbox 360’s processors to run free in rendering games. In the interest of cost, however, the processor got cut and now the Xbox is taking a 10-15% processor hit. Reports are conflicting as to whether or not that’s going to impact the sort of games that make it onto the system, but either way it pretty much rules out retrofitting older games for a new Kinect control scheme.

There are divergent reports on lag, but 100-150ms seems to be around where Kinect is playing (Sony claims a 22ms lag for PlayStation Move). During that time the system is tracking and processing 48 skeleton points in 3D space, watching up to two people, and repeating the process at around 30 fps.”

Kinect will be bundled along with the Xbox 360 and while the Xbox 360 has a tag of $199, the Kinect bundles will cost $399 for elite and $299 for arcade.

Microsoft has wowed the journos and analysts alike with the experience of real games, real gameplay, and real hardware, and a very real desire to get hands on with this new technology. The wait is set and we have a date with the Kinect, this 4th November 2010.

XBox Kinect: Real Time Motion Gaming Dawns (Part I)

Posted in Gaming by Manas Ganguly on June 21, 2010

Microsoft Project Natal finally sees the light of the day November 4th 2010 and it has a new name: Kinect. This is a part of the overall Microsoft strategy to use Natural motions as user interfaces.

The strange alien shaped machine which will be bundled along with the New Xbox 360 has not been named yet. The device specializes in Motion Gaming (which is what Natal was all about) with a dual/multi player capability, three dimensional approximation, Voice control mechanism, Social networking Apps: Twitter, Facebook, Zune and Netflix and a Video Chat App. Click here for more details of the games, device and user experience.

The interface is kept simple: You wave your hand to control a glowing cursor of sorts, and you push forward to “click” on the element you want.

Quoting Paul Miller on the Kinect Lite:
“In some ways, it’s pretty charming, with fun, jazzed up icons (when you hover over them they tilt and show off depth), a simplistic layout, and some great voice controls. The downside is this all comes at the cost of a brand new, fairly redundant interface for accessing functions that are already available with your Xbox 360 controller in the regular Dashboard. Still, there’s no denying the joy of waving a hand to log in, hovering over icons to select channels (though the wait-to-click mechanism strikes us as eventually frustrating), and scrubbing through media with very intuitive gestures.

Cloud Gaming: When Gaming meets the cloud

Posted in Gaming, The cloud and the open source by Manas Ganguly on June 17, 2010

Content Streaming, Music Streaming and if the trend at E3 is to be believed, the world is now headed to Game Streaming. We would call it “Cloud Gaming”

The Gigahertz Microprocessors and the iPads of the world along with Cloud computing could be unveiling the age of “cloud gaming”. Several companies hope using cloud computing to store games will be the real shift by letting gamers play high-end titles anywhere, on almost any machine. A view to “cloud gaming” is that If fully realized, they say, cloud gaming could be a console killer. The need and the idea is to make video game content increasingly free from the restrictions of device and location, while showcasing the ability to instantly play the latest, most advanced games at the touch of a button. Cloud gaming uses rapid data compression to let users store their games “in the cloud” — on Web servers — and then pull them down and play them using a regular Web browser. It’s the same concept as storing photos on a site such as Flickr or music videos on a MySpace page. The user doesn’t actually have those files on any one particular computer but can access them from anywhere. The only thing the user needs is a capable device, a decent browser and an a fast internet connection. The iPAD seems to be a good answer in terms of a capable device.


The Assasins Creed II finds a new home in the cloud

There are a few companies which are making early inroads into the area of “cloud gaming” and some interesting game titles such as Assassins Creed II, “Batman Arkhalam Asylum” and “Mass Effect II” have found new homes in the crowd and more are to follow. Revenues are to be made from subscription services, or pay per play or even in terms of trail gaming before buying the real monty from a store. Microsoft with its Xbox Live network, Sony with its Play Stationplus, Virgin, aggregators like Onlive and Gaikal are early entrants into this new gaming construct.


Batman: Arkhalam Asylum is another blockbuster to go to the cloud

However, not everyone in the tech community is sold just yet on the concept of “cloud gaming”. Some question whether gamers, who presumably already have at least one gaming console, will pony up again for the ability to play their favorite titles from the cloud.Even if it costs less to rent or play a game — and it probably will … Game streaming will have a tough time competing with actual hardware for all but the most dedicated gamers.

Interesting piece and we would be keeping an eye on that.

Microsoft Natal: Coming this June13th.

Posted in Gaming by Manas Ganguly on March 29, 2010

June 13th 2010:Will Microsoft Unveil the Natal on this day?

Of the three technologies that Microsoft is aggressively pursuing, Natal is intended to be the “Future of Gaming”. The others include Surface (The Future of Touch) and Microsoft’s Cloud computing efforts.

Microsoft is now readying for Xbox 360 Experience press conference at the E3 show in Los Angeles on June 13. I expect it to be the unveiling of the Natal powered new series of Xbox360. However, whether it’s a formal announcement or just another explanation of the technology won’t be known until then.

Natal, is Microsoft’s camera-based motion controller. In early demontrations, the technology has been extremely impressive, although no one quite knows how Natal will hold up in real-world gameplay in millions of different home gaming setups. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft said that the Natal technology would ship by the 2010 holiday season.

In The mean time, Rival Sony is decking the PlayStation Move, a combination of a Nintendo Wii-like nunchuk and the PlayStation Eye camera. I would have liked to see Sony integrate the FOLED technology on this one, but it looks like Sony has conserved that one as the next big story, the next big release.

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