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Xbox One does away with discs in new $249 All-Digital Edition

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, Microsoft, TC, xbox, Xbox One, Xbox One S | No Comments

Discs! What are they good for? Well, they’re nice if you don’t want to be tied to an online-only ecosystem. But if you don’t mind that, Microsoft’s latest Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” might be for you. With no slots to speak of, the console is limited to downloading games to its drive — which is how we’ve been doing it on PC for quite some time.

Announced during today’s “Inside Xbox” video presentation, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition — honestly, why not just give it a different letter? — is identical to the existing One S except for, of course, not having a disc slot in the front.

The Xbox One X (left) and S (center) are missing this valuable feature exclusive to the All-Digital Edition (right)

The impact of the news was lessened somewhat by Sony’s strategically timed tease of its next-generation console, revealing little — but enough to get gamers talking on a day Microsoft would have preferred was about its game ecosystem. But to return to the disc-free Xbox.

“We’re not looking to push customers toward digital,” explained Microsoft’s Jeff Gattis in a press release. “It’s about meeting the needs of customers that are digital natives that prefer digital-based media. Given this is the first product of its kind, it will teach us things we don’t already know about customer preferences around digital and will allow us to refine those experiences in the future. We see this as a step forward in extending our offerings beyond the core console gamer.”

The CPU and GPU are the same, RAM is the same, everything is the same. Even, unfortunately, the hard drive: a single lonely terabyte (imagine saying that a few years ago) that could fill up fast if every game has to be downloaded in full rather than loaded from disc.

It’s also the exact same shape and size as the S, which seems like a missed opportunity — they couldn’t make it a little smaller or thinner after taking out the whole Blu-ray assembly? Well, at least the original is a nice-looking little box to begin with. (“Changes that affect the form of a console can be complex and costly,” said Gattis.)

At $249 it’s $50 cheaper than the disc-using edition, and comes with copies of Sea of Thieves, Minecraft and Forza Horizon 3. That’s a pretty decent value, I’d say. If you’re looking to break into the Xbox ecosystem and don’t want to clutter your place with a bunch of discs and cases, this is a nice option. Sea of Thieves had kind of a weak start but has grown quite a bit, FH3 is supposed to be solid and Minecraft is of course Minecraft.

You may also want to spring for the new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service, which combines Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass — meaning you get the usual online benefits as well as access to the growing Game Pass library. There’s enough there now that, with the games you get in the box, you shouldn’t have to buy much of anything until whatever Microsoft announces at E3 comes out. (There’s even a special offer for three months of Game Pass for a buck to get you started.)

You can pre-order the All-Digital Edition (which really should have been called the Xbox One D) now, and it should ship and be available at retailers starting May 7.

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Disc-free Xbox One S could land on May 7th

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, Microsoft, xbox, Xbox One, Xbox One S | No Comments

Microsoft is about to launch an even cheaper Xbox One S. In order to cut costs, the company is removing the Blu-ray disc drive altogether. According to leaked marketing images spotted by WinFuture (via Thurrott), the console could launch on May 7th for €229 in Germany.

Given that the launch is just a few weeks away and that those marketing images line up perfectly with previous rumors, chances are this is the real deal.

As you can see on WinFuture’s images, it looks exactly like an Xbox One S without the disc slot. The console is called Xbox One S All Digital and comes with a 1TB hard drive — most standard Xbox One S consoles currently also feature a 1TB hard drive.

Microsoft states clearly that this console is only for digital games. If you already have physical Xbox One games, you won’t be able to insert them in the console.

Customers get three games for free with the console through download codes — Minecraft, Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 3. You can then buy more games in the online store or subscribe to the Xbox Game Pass to access a library of games.

This model should cost €229 in Germany, but you might be able to buy it for less. For instance, an Xbox One S officially costs €299 on Microsoft’s website, but you can easily buy it for €200 on Amazon and through other retailers.

Microsoft usually uses the same price points in USD, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Xbox One S All Digital officially costs $229 in the U.S.

It’s clear that Microsoft is testing the market with this console. The company has been pivoting to a subscription model. The Xbox brand is evolving from a gaming console brand to a service brand. This should be Microsoft’s key differentiating factor with the next generation of consoles.

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Microsoft launches Game Stack, brings Xbox Live to Android and iOS

Posted by | Azure, Cloud, Developer, Gaming, Microsoft, mixer, Simplygon, xbox, xbox live | No Comments

Microsoft today announced a new initiative that combines under a single umbrella all of the company’s gaming-related products for developers like Xbox Live, Azure PlayFab, Direct X, Mixer, Virtual Studio, Simplygon and Azure. That umbrella, Microsoft Game Stack, is meant to give game developers, no matter whether they are at a AAA studio or working solo, all the tools they need to develop and then operate their games across devices and platforms.

“Game Stack brings together our game development platforms, tools and services like Direct X and Visual Studio, Azure and Playfab into a robust ecosystem that any game developer can use,” said Kareem Choudhry, the corporate vice president for the Microsoft Gaming Cloud. “We view this as a journey that we are just beginning.”

It’s worth noting that developers can pick and choose which of the services they want to use. While Azure is part of Game Stack, for example, the overall stack is cloud and device agnostic. Undoubtedly, though, Microsoft hopes that developers will adopt Azure as their preferred cloud. These days, after all, most games feature some online component, even if they aren’t multiplayer games, and developers need a place to store player credentials, telemetry data and other info.

One of the core components of Game Stack is PlayFab, a backend service for building cloud-connected games, which now falls under the Azure family. Microsoft acquired the service early last year and it’s worth noting that it supports all major gaming platforms, ranging from the Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch to iOS, Android, PC and web.

With today’s announcement, Microsoft is launching a number of new PlayFab services, too. These include PlayFab Matchmaking, a matchmaking service the company adapted from Xbox Live matchmaking, but that’s now available to all developers and on all devices. This service is now in public preview. In private preview are PlayFab Party, a voice and chat service (also modeled after Xbox Party Chat), PlayFab Game insights for real-time game telemetry, PlayFab Pub Sub for pushing content updates, notifications and more to the game client, and PlayFab User Generated Content for allowing players to safely share content with each other.

So while Game Stack may feel more like a branding exercise, it’s clear that PlayFab is where Microsoft is really putting its money as it’s competing with Amazon and Google, both of which have recently put a lot of emphasis on game developers, too.

In addition to these announcements, Microsoft also today said that it is bringing an SDK for Xbox Live to iOS and Android devices so developers can integrate that service’s identity and community services into their games on those platforms, too.

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Microsoft shows off Project xCloud with Forza running on an Android phone

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, Microsoft, xbox, Xbox Game Pass, Xbox One | No Comments

Microsoft has shared some more information and the first look at Project xCloud. The company has been working on a cloud game streaming service for a while. Microsoft is preparing the future of gaming platforms with a device-agnostic service that lets you stream games made for the Xbox One.

And the first demo is Forza Horizon 4 running in a data center and then streamed to an Android phone attached to an Xbox One controller via Bluetooth.

“Anywhere we have a good network connection, we’ll be able to participate in Project xCloud,” Microsoft head of gaming cloud Kareem Choudhry said in the video. While Forza Horizon 4 is a demanding game and an Android phone is a tiny device, it won’t be limited to extreme scenarios like that.

Choudhry compared Project xCloud to a music streaming or video streaming service. When you have a Spotify account, you can log in from any device, such as your phone, your computer or your work laptop, and find the same music library and your personal music playlists.

You can imagine an Xbox-branded service that you could access from any device. Even if your computer has an integrated Intel GPU, you could log in and play a demanding game from that computer. Everything would run in a data center near you.

It’s easy to see how Project xCloud would work with Microsoft’s existing gaming services. The company promises the same games with no extra work for developers. You’ll access your cloud saves, your friends and everything you’re already familiar with if you’re using an Xbox or the Xbox app on your PC.

If you’ve bought an Xbox, an Xbox 360 and an Xbox One, there will be more Xbox consoles in the future. “It’s not a replacement for consoles, we’re not getting out of the console business,” Choudhry said.

Other companies have been working on cloud gaming. French startup Blade has been working on Shadow, the most promising service currently available. Shadow lets you access a Windows 10 instance running in a data center.

Microsoft wants to associate technology with content. The company already sells a subscription service. With the Xbox Game Pass, you can play Xbox One and Xbox 360 games for $10 per month. Let’s see how Project xCloud and the Xbox Game Pass work together when Microsoft starts public trials later this year.

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Microsoft highlights the Xbox Adaptive Controller in emotional Super Bowl ad

Posted by | accessibility, Gaming, hardware, Microsoft, super bowl, xbox | No Comments

Once upon a time, people had to wait for the Super Bowl to watch the ads. Those dark days are over. Now you can have companies sell you products on-demand, any time, day or night. Amazon has already debuted its latest Alexa ad, and now Microsoft’s getting in on the action — and this one’s a bit of a tear-jerker.

The software giant’s Super Bowl spot highlights some of the work it’s done to increase the accessibility of its products. Front and center is the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a $100 ad-on that makes the console more accessible to gamers with a range of different needs. The spot features a number of different children (and their parents) who are better able to enjoy gaming using the device. 

The Adaptive Controller was created with input from a number of different groups, including The AbleGamers Charity, The Cerebral Palsy Foundation, SpecialEffect and Warfighter Engaged, and tested with help from various users. On top of its base functionality with two large pads, it also works with a number of different control inputs, which can be plugged into the rear of the product.

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Spotify for Xbox One now works with Cortana voice commands

Posted by | Gamers, Gaming, Media, Music, Spotify, streaming, xbox | No Comments

Spotify arrived on the Xbox One back in August 2017 to give gamers the option of streaming their own tunes while in a gaming session. Today, Spotify is upgrading its app with a few key additions, including most notably support for Cortana voice control, along with other personalization features. With Cortana, gamers will be able to speak their music requests instead of using the controller. That means they can command the music — including being able to play, skip and pause songs — without having to leave their current gaming session, Spotify says.

Before, gamers would have to use Spotify Connect via an app on their phone, tablet or laptop to control or change the music while gaming.

For example, you’ll be able to say things like “Hey, Cortana, play my playlist on Spotify,” or “Hey Cortana, play my Discover Weekly on Spotify.”

This upgrade is currently only available in the U.S., however.

The new app is also introducing an updated experience that’s designed to make it easier for Spotify users to access recently played songs, plus your “Made for You” hub, and your music library.

Previously, Xbox One users only had access to basic Spotify controls, like play, pause, and skip plus visuals like the cover art and artist and song name. Now, they have personalized content recommendations, and the ability to playback content right from the Guide menu.

This part of the update is rolling out more broadly, including the U.S., as well as in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey and the U.K.

Options like repeat and shuffle are available, too, as are a selection of curated gaming playlists, over on Spotify’s “Gaming Hub” if you get stumped as to what to play.

In the future, updates to this Enhanced Background Mode, as Spotify calls the new experience, may include the ability to promote game specific content for major game launches, Spotify says.

The update will require the latest version of the Spotify app, which can be downloaded from the Microsoft Store, the company notes.

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Microsoft could release a disc-less Xbox One

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, Microsoft, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

According to a new report from Thurott, Microsoft has been working on a new console in the Xbox One family. This cheaper model could play regular Xbox One games, but there would be no Blu-Ray drive.

This move would lower the price of the entry-level Xbox One. An Xbox One S officially starts at $299 but you can currently find it for around $250 on Amazon. The disc-less Xbox One could start at $199.

If you already have an Xbox One and physical games, you could imagine going to an official retailer to trade your discs for a digital download code. Let’s hope that this new Xbox comes with a big hard drive for those who have a slow internet connection.

Back when Microsoft first unveiled the Xbox One in 2013, the company wanted to make a big push toward digital games. The original plan was that you would associate your physical games with your Xbox account. After that, you could play the game even without inserting the disc. Microsoft also planned a way to lend a digital game to a friend for 30 days.

After some backlash, Microsoft gave up on this plan and switched back to a more traditional system. But it’s been five years, digital games are more popular than ever and internet connections are faster than ever.

Microsoft also thinks the future of games is based on subscriptions. With the Xbox Game Pass, you can access dozens of games for $10 per month. You can also subscribe to EA Access on the Xbox One. Eventually, you could imagine replacing the Xbox altogether with a subscription for a streaming service. But we’re not there yet.

According to Thurott, Microsoft is also working on an updated Xbox One S that could be a bit cheaper. This one would have a traditional disc drive.

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Microsoft announces an Xbox game streaming service

Posted by | Gaming, Microsoft, xbox | No Comments

A week after Google launched a game streaming service Project Stream in beta, Microsoft’s touting its own take on the category. Project xCloud is, naturally, an Xbox game streaming service, designed to  bring the console’s titles to a slew of different platforms.

Outlined via blog post, the service is the latest offering to offer gamers the promise of cross-platform autonomy, bringing CPU-heavily titles to the PC and mobile devices. Public trials of the service will kick off next year. For now, the company is busily recruiting developers to bring content to the service and testing in private beta.

Those tests involve running titles on smartphones and tablets, played with bluetooth Xbox controllers or via touch. The latter, naturally, presents its own sorts of challenges. Games developed for complex consoles don’t necessarily translate to touch.

Says Microsoft,

Cloud game-streaming is a multi-faceted, complex challenge. Unlike other forms of digital entertainment, games are interactive experiences that dynamically change based on player input. Delivering a high-quality experience across a variety of devices must account for different obstacles, such as low-latency video streamed remotely, and support a large, multi-user network. In addition to solving latency, other important considerations are supporting the graphical fidelity and framerates that preserve the artist’s original intentions, and the type of input a player has available.

For now, the service is far from public. Microsoft certainly has the hardware/gaming/enterprise expertise to pull it off, but execution is still a ways off, unlike Google’s recent Assassin’s Creed Odyssey demo, which is currently being offered in public beta. 

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Rockstar releases second Red Dead Redemption 2 gameplay trailer

Posted by | Entertainment, Gaming, PS4, red dead redemption, red dead redemption 2, rockstar games, TC, xbox | No Comments

We are less than a month away from the release of Red Dead Redemption 2, the sequel to one of the most popular games of the PS3/Xbox era. Red Dead Redemption launched in 2010, meaning that fans of the franchise have waited for almost a decade to continue their adventure through the early American frontier.

Today, Rockstar Games has released a little over 4 minutes of gameplay footage, showing off a special glimpse of first-person mode. Usually a third-person game, Rockstar has let slip that the next game will have a first-person mode for folks who want to fully immerse.

Watch Gameplay Video Part 2: https://t.co/ZlRCx5DyC7

Red Dead Redemption 2: Coming October 26, 2018.

Pre-Order Now: https://t.co/Dse5wKDeZr pic.twitter.com/Rh7TIhD7Md

— Rockstar Games (@RockstarGames) October 1, 2018

Part of the draw to RDR comes from the beauty of its open world experience. With RDR2, Rockstar has challenged itself to make everything bigger, better, and more dynamic. In this trailer, the company shows off small but significant details like the dynamic weather (see Arthur Morgan’s frosty breath in the snow) and also gives us a deeper look at important game mechanics like Dead Eye.

As part of the expansion of the RDR world itself, players are also getting even more customization options, with the ability to decide what Arthur wears, eats, and how well he handles his own physical hygiene. Though it’s not show in this particular trailer, we’ve also learned that players can customize their horses as well.

You can check out the full gameplay trailer below. Red Dead Redemption 2 is available starting October 26.

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You can now use Alexa and Cortana to control your Xbox

Posted by | Alexa, console, Cortana, Gaming, Microsoft, TC, voice, voice assistant, xbox | No Comments

You can now control the Xbox from Alexa and Cortana. Microsoft announced his morning it’s introducing a new way to interact with Xbox One using voice commands, by way of an Xbox Skill that works with both Alexa and Cortana, across platforms. The skill will allow users to launch games, adjust the volume, start and stop their broadcasts to Mixer, capture screenshots and more.

For example, players will be able to say to their Echo speaker, “Alexa, start Rocket League,” and the console would power on, sign them in, and launch the game.

To use the new feature with Alexa, players will first have to sign in with their Amazon account then link their Microsoft account to the skill. With Cortana, users will instead have to first sign into the Xbox they want to control, then sign in with their Microsoft account to link the skill on their Windows 10 PC.

They could then say something like “Hey Cortana, tell Xbox to open Netflix.”

 

Microsoft says the skill will work across a range of voice-powered devices, including Windows 10 PC, Amazon Echo devices, Harman Kardon Invoke, Sonos One, or the Cortana and Alexa apps for iOS and Android.

A full list of its commands will be posted to the Xbox Insiders Reddit. 

The Xbox Skill, at launch, will be rolling out gradually to U.S. Xbox Insider rings (Alpha Skip Ahead, Alpha, Beta) as the company takes in feedback from its early adopters. To see if you have the option available, you’ll need to look in Settings –> Devices on your console to see if the “Digital Assistant” setting is visible.

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