Tag: XBox 360

Microsoft buys Skype for $8.5 billion

The shy and retiring Steve “There’s A Kind Of Hush” Ballmer has shocked Wall Street by writing an $8.5 billion cheque to buy Skype.

Wall Street thinks he probably paid a bit too much for the outfit which lost $7 million last year and has a debt of $686 million.

It is the largest acquisition since Redmond paid $6 billion for the online advertising company aQuantive in 2007. The move would bring it 660 million users worldwide while giving it a foothold in voice and video communications.

Analysts think that it could be integrated into existing Microsoft products such as its Xbox 360 games console and Kinect gaming systems, or even into its flagship Office product to let users collaborate more effectively.

Facebook, Google and Cisco Systems were interested in acquiring it to fold into their own services and while analysts think the sale is a good idea, the price tag has left them a bit upset.

Skype was bought by eBay for $2.6 billion in 2005 . It later wrote down Skype’s value by $1.4bn and flogged off a 70 percent stake at the end of 2007. It still has 30 percent and with the Volish cash it is now worth $2.4 billion, which means that it is quids in on its Skype moves.

Google previously looked at purchasing Skype in 2005 but was worried about patent problems with the technology. Essential patents for the service are owned by a company linked to Skype’s founders.

Vole already has a voice-over-internet offering, called Lync, which combines email, instant messaging and voice communications into a single program. It is part of its Office division, but has failed to attract much attention.

Details on the deal will be announced later today the Guardian claims. 

Microsoft U-turns on Kinect hacking

Microsoft has made a U-turn on its threat to bring in the legal dogs for hacking the Kinect, with it now saying that it left the Kinect open intentionally and that it feels inspired by the numerous open source Kinect developments that have happened over the last few weeks.

The sudden change of stance came from Alex Kipman, Program Manager at Microsoft and one of the main people behind the Kinect. He appeared on the National Public Radio’s (NPR) Science Friday show, where he said:

“Kinect was not actually hacked. Hacking would mean that someone got to our algorithms that sit inside of the Xbox and was able to actually use them, which hasn’t happened, or it means that you put a device between the sensor and the Xbox for means of cheating, which also has not happened. That’s what we call hacking, and that’s what we have put a ton of work and effort to make sure it doesn’t actually occur. 

“What has happened is someone wrote an open-source driver for PCs that essentially opens the USB connection – which we didn’t protect, by design – and reads the inputs from the sensor. The sensor again, as I talked earlier, has eyes and ears, and that’s a whole lot of noise that someone needs to take and turn into signal.”

The radio host attempted to clarify by asking: “You left it open by design, then, so that people could get into it?” Kipman responded with: “Correct.”

Shannon Loftis, another Microsoft employee who worked heavily on the Kinect, was also there on the show. She said was was inspired by the gaming community finding new uses for the device.

This is just a slight shift in position from  law enforcement chest beating regarding any modification of the Kinect. Of course, according to Redmond, Kinect hasn’t been “hacked” to its definition. So it’s not contradicting its earlier threat.

An open source advocate, Adafruit Industries, paid out a $3,000 bounty to the first person to create an open source driver for the Kinect around two weeks ago. This allows it to be used with platforms other than the Xbox 360. 

Adafruit was particularly pleased with Microsoft’s newfound respect for the hacking community.

Kinect hacked to work with Windows 7

The Kinect has been hacked to work with Windows 7, only days after a $2,000 bounty was offered to anyone who developed a fully-documented open source driver that would allow the device and software to work with systems other than the Xbox 360.

A Youtube user called KinectMan2 uploaded a video showing the Kinect connected to his PC. He used an NUI Motor Test to show the Kinect camera responding in real time to movement with its built-in accelerometer, which is the first pivotal step towards making it work on a different platform.

However, more is required to apply for the bounty, including video showcasing colour and depth. KinectMan2 has not been idle, however, releasing another video addressing these issues:

A third video shows the camera movements being controlled from within Windows 7:

It’s not clear if this fulfills all the requirements to claim Adafruit Industries’ $2,000 bounty, but it’s a definite step in that direction. The developer is also attempting to raise $10,000 to fund development of the project as open source, but so far only $102 has been donated.

Microsoft was furious with Adafruit for offering the bounty, so it remains to be seen how it will react to this development. While some people believe the company would benefit from increased Kinect sales by having it multi-platform, limiting it to the Xbox 360 will result in substantially higher console sales, which it needs to compete with Sony’s PlayStation Move and Nintendo’s Wii.

Microsoft furious at $2,000 bounty for open source Kinect drivers

A $2,000 bounty is being offered to the first developer who creates an open source driver for the Kinect, despite the proposal meeting with Microsoft’s staunch disapproval.

The original bounty was $1,000, offered by Adafruit Industries, an open source electronics seller and advocate. However, when Microsoft found out about the bounty and voiced its dissatisfaction Adafruit decided to double the offer.

“Microsoft does not condone the modification of its products,” a Microsoft spokesperson told CNET. “With Kinect, Microsoft built in numerous hardware and software safeguards designed to reduce the chances of product tampering. Microsoft will continue to make advances in these types of safeguards and work closely with law enforcement and product safety groups to keep Kinect tamper-resistant.”

The bounty appears to have caused a rift between the two companies, with Adafruit not taking kindly to Microsoft’s response. “Don’t make us up it to $3k,” it threatened, which surely won’t go down well at Redmond.

Prospective bounty hunters are require to develop drivers for the Kinect for any operating system, but they must be fully documented and issued under an open source license to be eligble. Developers must also write an application demonstrating the driver and showcasing video and depth.

The outcome of such a driver, should Microsoft not take actions to prevent its circulation, could allow the Kinect to work with other systems beside the Xbox 360, such as a rival console or even a PC or Mac, giving new possible uses for the motion capture hands-free device.

The Kinect was released in the US on 4 November, with the European release set for 10 November.

IBM and Microsoft boffins show off Xbox 360 chip

Boffins from Microsoft and IBM have been showing off the integrated processor inside the latest Xbox 360 250G gaming console

The 45nm processor integrates two 65nm chips on the previous Xbox 360. These were an IBM processor with three 3.2 GHz Power PC cores and an AMD graphics chip using 48 unified parallel shaders. The new set up integrated an IBM embedded DRAM die.

But the interesting thing is that when the pair came to design the chip they didn’t need to create any new logic blocks. In fact the whole design thing could be done on the cheap thanks to the way the chips had been designed in the first place.

Big Blue updated the chip’s front-side bus but most of the design work was focused on ways to bring the separate blocks into an optimised and unified 45nm IBM silicon-on-insulator process.

The integrated chip is a smaller, cooler processor that has a smaller motherboard and simpler power supply. It only needs one heat sink and a relatively low-speed, quiet fan.

Microsoft said that the process has reduced power consumption by 60 percent and cut die size in half.  Talking at Hot Chips the two companies looked like they would be working together on a number of similar projects.

Celebrity gamer clan to get trounced at Halo: Reach launch

Microsoft has today announced a competition for the Xbox 360, and Halo: Reach, which will see the winner become captain of a “dream team” of celebrity Xbox fans who are probably taking a bung from Microsoft.

The fans include Rio Ferdinand, the new-ish one off of T4 Jameela Jamil, rugby man Ben Cohen and The Gadget Show’s Jason Bradbury, in what will be the most high profile and most doomed-from-the-start clan to take on anyone over Xbox: Live. Rio Ferdinand’s good with his feet but controllers are ergonomically designed to fit into hands. Someone better tell him.

There’s a mystery member which is yet to be revealed – our bet is on Stevie Wonder or Stephen Hawking.

Microsoft is planning a series of mini tournaments, in Halo 3, scheduled over the weekend beginning the 14th of August. Registration is open until Friday the 13th, lucky-for-some, at UK Spotlight, Play2Compete, XboxLiveAddicts and Xboxer360. The overall winner will find themselves taking charge of the hopeless squad.

The “Elite Spartan Squad” will then go face to face with a team of six gamers selected by the Xbox 360 team to challenge them. It’ll all go down at the Reach launch, where we will hopefully see the celebs headshotted over and over and over and over and over. 

The official Xbox site for the competition is here.

Playstation 3 gets bigger hard drive

Maker of big tellies Sony has said that it is preparing to jack a bigger hard drive under the bonnet of its PS3.

The new console will appear in Japan at the end of July, and not only will it have a bigger hard-drivebut will also be available in white, just like a Beatles album.

The 160GB model will be sold for $401 which is the same price as the 120GB. A 320GB  model is also being planned.

Sony did not indicate worldwide release plans in the statement but we would expect to see it appearing in the US and EU a few months afterwards.

The move comes as there is increased competition between Sony and Microsoft for the hearts and minds of gamers.  For ages the two have been the also rans behind the much lower tech Nintendo Wii.  This was mostly because the Wii had a motion controller which allowed people to play games without using buttons.

Microsoft and Sony will release motion-sensing controllers later this year. PlaySsation Move wands will hit the market in time for the year-end holiday shopping season in the US. Microsoft’s Kinet technology will use a 3D camera and gesture recognition software.

Microsoft makes a 'kin price cut

It looks like Microsoft’s ‘kin phones are not exactly jumping off the shelves and it appears that ISPs have ordered a price cut.

Despite being a reasonable phone, and having a huge TV advertising campaign, the ‘Kin has not got much attention from the great unwashed.

It has faced stiff competition from the iPhone and other smartphones, which don’t cost any more per month and offer the ability to run thousands more applications.

This left US telcos with shedloads of inventory which does not look like it will shift any time soon.

Over the weekend, Verizon cut the price.

The ‘Kin One fell from $49 to $29, while the Kin Two went from $99 to $49 which is ‘kin cheap even if you have to sign your soul away for a two-year contract and agree to a $29 or higher monthly data plan.

Redmond is not saying a ‘Kin word lately. At the time Microsoft didn’t expect it to do ‘kin well but it appears it did ‘kin terribly.

There were a few quirks with the phone including a famous one where Twitter users could not twit way to their hearts content. There were also some problems with restarts and battery life.

Redmond will fix some of these problems with a ‘kin update in mid-summer but it looks like most of the users will have drifted off to something more Androidish by then. 

Taiwan suppliers will start shipping Microsoft's Project Natal in August

Microsoft’s famed, lauded and much-hyped Project Natal will start seeing its devices shipped by Foxconn Electronics and Flextronics International in August, with mass shipments expected to commence early 2011, according to DigiTimes

Industry bods in Taiwan reckon that the boosted demand for the Xbox 360 that Natal will bring will heavily benefit suppliers, such as Lite-On Technology, Jentech Precision Industrial and lens supplier Newmax Technology.

The motion sensing Xbox 360 add-on, which is being talked about in gaming circles more than the World Cup, Coronation Street and Britain’s Got Talent combined, will be available for pre-order on UK retailer GAME’s website on the 13th June, reports Pocket Lint. It’s thought that the kit could fetch as much as $149 (£103) for the camera by itself, while a bundle with the console is likely to have a pricetag of $299 (£206). 

It was revealed last month by a Microsoft marketing top dog that Natal should arrive to the consumer in October 2010. While Foxconn won’t comment on its shipping orders, the Microsoft leaked release date is in line with the Taiwan shipping forecasts. There will be confirmation, plus other Natal news, at this year’s E3 which begins this coming Monday 14th June. 

Sony’s effort, the Playstation Move, is also set for release later this year.

Project Natal coming this October

The greatly anticipated Project Natal for the Xbox 360 will be released in October of this year.

The announcement came from Syed Bilal Tariq, Marketing Manager of Entertainment and Devices at Microsoft Saudi on Saudi TV, where he revealed that Microsoft “will be in a position to confirm the date after E3, which is in June. But definitely, it is going to be October 2010.”

The release date is a month or two earlier than expected. Previous predictions had it set for Christmas 2010, which would have been late November or early December, in line with prior major releases. Indeed the word “Natal” is actually Portuguese for Christmas. What is for certain, however, is that this will be one of the most requested presents for the holiday period.

Microsoft’s answer to the Wii is a motion capture system for the Xbox 360, promising full body capture instead of simply knowing where your arm is swinging while holding a controller. All that is required is a standard Xbox 360 console and the new Project Natal motion capture device, which is like a little camera you put at the bottom of your TV.

The camera even does a full body scan and can recognise the user when they move in front of it, which sounds amazing but may be a questionable direction for those who are concerned about privacy and technology being able to identify people. Science-fiction stuff, really, but the games industry is really pushing things to make these impossible sounding things more possible.

The whole project seems almost a little too good to be true, with even Steven Spielberg supporting it, saying: “This is a pivotal moment that will carry with it a wave of change, the ripples of which will reach far beyond video games.”

In order for Microsoft to really pull this off it needs to ensure that the motion capture system  is relatively exact. From early reports it’s still not 100 percent, but it’s supposedly better than what the Wii is offering, which must count for something.

Probably the best thing about Project Natal is that it’s not a new console. It was becoming a bit of a trend that when a console finally became affordable to a larger audience it would be replaced by a new one. It seems that the Wii opened the games industry’s eyes to the fact that simply upping the graphics doesn’t qualify the need for a new console. The Xbox 360’s graphics are already top of the range, and since Project Natal has been expected to be around for at least a five year period, it seems the Microsoft console will be here for some time to come.

Nintendo can always claim that it did it first, but with the graphics and games of the Xbox 360 behind it Project Natal is most likely to topple Nintendo’s reign. Then again, we’ll have to see how the PS3 effort fares, too.