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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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Microsoft is about to announce Xbox All Access subscription

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, Microsoft, xbox, Xbox All Access, Xbox Game Pass, Xbox One, Xbox One S, xbox one x | No Comments

Microsoft published a news item announcing Xbox All Access on the Xbox blog and then unpublished it. But multiple news outlets spotted the article before Microsoft could take the post down. So now that the cat is out of the bag, it looks like Microsoft’s new hardware and software subscription is real. (Update: Microsoft has published the announcement for real.)

There have been rumors over the past few weeks that Microsoft was planning to announce a new subscription. Today’s announcement lines up with those rumors. Microsoft is launching Xbox All Access in the U.S., which includes a console, Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass.

You get to choose between an Xbox One S for $22 per month or an Xbox One X for $35 per month. After paying for 24 months, the subscription stops and the console is yours. You can then choose to keep paying for Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass or you can cancel your subscriptions — it’s your console after all.

So let’s do the math. You can currently buy an Xbox One S for around $299. Xbox Live Gold lets you play multiplayer games and access free games for $60 per year. The Xbox Game Pass lets you download and play games from a library of 100+ games for $9.99 per month — it’s a sort of Spotify for video games.

If you buy a console and subscribe for two years, you’ll end up paying around $659. An Xbox All Access subscription lets you save around $130. If you already planned on subscribing to those two services, it sounds like a good deal. If you didn’t really care about Xbox Game Pass, you’ll end up paying more than buying a console the normal way.

The Xbox One X currently costs around $499. If you add two years of Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass, the bottom line is $859. Two years of Xbox All Access with the Xbox One X costs $840. So it’s not that good a deal if you’re interested in the Xbox One X.

With this new offering, Microsoft shows that it wants to shift its gaming strategy to subscriptions. Buying a console every few years isn’t as lucrative as buying an all-in-one Xbox subscription. Subscriptions increase customer loyalty and create predictable recurring revenue.

More importantly, gaming consoles won’t stick around forever. At some point, games will run on expensive servers in the cloud and you’ll subscribe to a service. Rumor has it that Microsoft is already getting ready to launch a low-powered system to stream games from the cloud. This is what Microsoft is thinking about with Xbox All Access.

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Microsoft is building low-cost, streaming-only Xbox, says report

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, Microsoft, Nintendo, nvidia, onlive, PlayStation 4, Sony, xbox | No Comments

It was revealed at E3 last month that Microsoft was building a cloud gaming system. A report today calls that system Scarlett Cloud and it’s only part of Microsoft’s next-gen Xbox strategy. And it makes a lot of sense, too.

According to Thurrott.com, noted site for all things Microsoft, the next Xbox will come in two flavors. One will be a traditional gaming console where games are processed locally. You know, like how it works on game systems right now. The other system will be a lower-powered system that will stream games from the cloud — most likely, Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

This streaming system will still have some processing power, which is in part to counter latency traditionally associated with streaming games. Apparently part of the game will run locally while the rest is streamed to the system.

The streaming Xbox will likely be available at a much lower cost than the traditional Xbox. And why not. Microsoft has sold Xbox systems with a slim profit margin, relying on sales of games and online services to make up the difference. A streaming service that’s talked about on Thurrott would further take advantage of this model while tapping into Microsoft’s deep understanding of cloud computing.

A few companies have tried streaming full video games. Onlive was one of the first; while successful for a time, it eventually went through a dramatic round of layoffs before a surprise sale for $4.8 million in 2012. Sony offers an extensive library of PS2, PS3 and PS4 games for streaming through its PlayStation Now service. Nvidia got into the streaming game this year and offers a small selection of streaming through GeForce Now. But these are all side projects for the companies.

Sony and Nintendo do not have the global cloud computing platform of Microsoft, and if Microsoft’s streaming service hits, it could change the landscape and force competitors to reevaluate everything.

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Microsoft to launch new Xbox hardware next month

Posted by | Gadgets, Microsoft, playstation, xbox | No Comments

Microsoft is teasing new Xbox hardware and accessories will launch at Gamescom in Germany next month. Details are limited. The word comes from a Microsoft blog post about the event in which it lists the date and time of the August 21 event, which will feature “lots of news, all-new Xbox hardware and accessories, and features on upcoming titles.”

Don’t expect the successor to the Xbox One, though.

There are several options here and most signs point to a new Xbox Elite controller. Rumors have been swirling that the updated controller will feature USB-C charging, Windows 10 compatibility and updated mechanisms for the triggers and buttons. The timing is right, too. If announced in the middle of August, Microsoft will have plenty of time to get the expensive controller into retail stores for the holiday season.

Microsoft just released the 4K Xbox One X last year. This model is still competitive with the latest PlayStation 4. A lower price, or a redesigned low-end Xbox One S, could also be on tap.

Whatever is announced on August 21 at Gamescom, we’ll pass along the word.

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Rumored full mouse and keyboard support for Xbox One could change the gaming landscape

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, Mice, Microsoft, mouse, peripherals, TC, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

Microsoft may be readying a new weapon that could shift the balance in the interminable console wars: the mouse. Wait, you say, didn’t they promise that years ago, and aren’t there peripherals already available? Kind of. But going whole hog into PC-style controls allows Microsoft to create powerful synergies with Windows, performing a flanking maneuver against arch-rival Sony.

Mouse and keyboard is, of course, the control method of choice for many games on PC, but it has remained elusive on consoles. Some fancy accessories have made it possible to do it, and years ago Microsoft said it would be adding mouse support to games on its console, but the feature has in practice proved frustratingly limited. More on-screen pointing has been done with Wiimotes by far.

Windows Central got hold of an internal presentation ostensibly from Microsoft that details what could be a full-court press on the mouse and keyboard front, which is one the company is uniquely suited to attempt.

In fact, you may very rightly wonder why it hasn’t been attempted before now. The trouble isn’t implementing it but the changes that have to be made downstream of that implementation.

One of these things? Why not?

For one thing, hardly any games will support the control method out of the box. They’ve all been made with very specific hardware in mind, and it’s nontrivial to add a pointer to menus, change relative camera movement to absolute movement and so on.

And for another, mouse and keyboard is simply a superior form of input for some games. Certainly for the likes of real-time strategy and simulations, which involve a lot of menus and precise clicking — which accounts for the relative lack of those on consoles. But more importantly in the gaming economy, first-person shooters are massively dominated by mouse users.

That may sound sort of like a gauntlet thrown to the ground between PC and console players, but this argument has played out before many times and the mouse and keyboard players always come out on top, often by embarrassing margins.

Usually that doesn’t present a big problem, since, for example, competitive Call of Duty leagues are pretty much all on console. You just don’t have match-ups between mice and controllers.

That’s starting to change, however, with the introduction of major cross-platform games like Fortnite. When you have Xbox, Switch and PC players all on the same server, the latter arguably has a huge advantage for a number of reasons.

You don’t bring an analog stick to a sniper fight.

And on the other hand, the Xbox One is lagging behind the PlayStation 4 in sales and in attractive exclusives. A fresh play that expands the Xbone into a growing niche — say, pro and competitive gaming — would be a huge boon just about now.

That’s why the document Windows Central received makes so much sense. The presentation suggests that all Windows-compatible USB mice and keyboards will work with Xbox One, including wireless ones that work via dongle. That would change the game considerably, so to speak.

The devices would have to report themselves and be monitored, of course: It wouldn’t do for a game to think it’s receiving controller input but instead getting mouse input. And that leaves the door open to cheating and so on, as well. So device IDs and such will be carefully monitored.

Whether and how to implement mouse and keyboard controls will still be left entirely to the developer, the slides note, which of course leaves us with the same problems as before. But what allowing any mouse to be used does, combined with a huge amount of players doing so on a major property like Fortnite, is create a sort of critical mass.

Right now the handful of players with custom, expensive setups to mouse around in a handful of games just isn’t enough for developers to dedicate significant resources to accommodating them. But say a few hundred thousand people decide to connect their spare peripherals to the console? All of a sudden that’s an addressable market — it provides a competitive advantage to be the developer who supports it.

Mouse support may also provide the bridge that enables the longstanding Microsoft fantasy of merging its Xbox and Windows ecosystems at least in part. It unifies the experience, allows for improved library sharing, and generally shifts the Xbox One from a dedicated console to essentially a standardized low-cost, high-performance gaming PC.

This may have the further effect of helping put pressure on Valve and its Steam store, which dominates the PC gaming world to the point of near monopoly. Being able to play on Xbox or Windows, share achievements and save games, have gameplay parity and so on — this is the kind of compelling multi-platform experience Microsoft has been flirting with for years.

Imagine that: a Microsoft ecosystem that spans PCs and consoles, embraces competitive gaming at all levels and is easy and simple to set up. Sony would have little recourse, having no desktop business to leverage, and Valve’s own attempts to cross the console divide have been largely abortive. In a way it seems like Microsoft is poised for a critical hit — if only it manages to take advantage of it.

Will this just be the latest chapter in the long story of failed mouse support by consoles? Or is Microsoft laying the groundwork for a major change to how it approaches the gaming world? We didn’t see anything at E3 this year, so the answer isn’t forthcoming, but Microsoft may be spurred by this leak (assuming it’s genuine) to publicize the program a bit more and speak in more concrete terms how this potential shift would take place.

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Microsoft and Nintendo release Minecraft trailer focused on cross-play

Posted by | Gaming, Microsoft, Minecraft, Nintendo, Sony, Startups, Switch, TC, xbox | No Comments

In the world of gaming, cross-compatibility between platforms has always bene a bit of a white whale. While most players hope for it, console makers and game publishers haven’t always been so willing. Until recently.

Microsoft, Nintendo and PC game makers have started making games more cross-compatible. Most notably, the companies have made Fortnite Battle Royale, the biggest game of the year, cross-compatible on the Switch, Xbox, iOS, and PC. Yes, there is a big name missing from that list.

Sony has yet to budge, forcing PS4 players inside of a walled garden. Obviously, players have been outraged.

But today, Microsoft and Nintendo are seemingly putting salt in the wound with a new trailer for Minecraft.

Rather than focusing on the game, the trailer’s entire thesis is centered around the fact that it offers cross-play between Xbox and the Switch. In the video, you can see a Switch player and an Xbox player gaming together in the wonderful world of Minecraft.

The tag line at the end reads “Better Together.”

Long story short, cross play is happening in the gaming world. Finally. Whether or not Sony chooses to catch up is anyone’s guess.

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