Subject: General Tech | August 15, 2013 - 08:09 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, valve, xbox, pc gaming
A half of a year, almost to the day, passed since Valve removed two dozen employees. Jason Holtman, then Director of Business for Valve, was among those released. Despite the flat-by-design corporate structure, with even game credits listed alphabetically versus title and department, Holtman is considered key to the success of Steam.
Games for Windows has not been a success. Microsoft Game Studios, and even Microsoft Hardware, had high respect in the PC gaming industry with extremely popular franchises and lines of peripherals. Their image has since regressed far enough for Microsoft to give up, two years ago, and roll Games for Windows into the Xbox brand.
As Microsoft fell, Valve climbed. Steam, largely credited to efforts by Jason Holtman, distributes games for basically every major publisher. It has a respected position on the hard drive of gamers which is an enviable feat. The Windows Store has not received any uptake. Microsoft feels the need to change that and, it would seem by accepting the job, Holtman believes he can accomplish that.
I do wonder how Microsoft will be influenced by this hire. The major concern with Windows Store is its certification process and I doubt anything will change on that front. I expect the hope is his contributions to publisher relationships but he might also, on the side, induce change in visible ways.
Subject: General Tech | July 21, 2013 - 02:21 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, productivity, outlook, office 365, microsoft, gaming, deals
Microsoft recently posted a new offer that seeks to sweeten the pot for customers interested in trying out the company’s Office 365 Home Premium subscription. Under the new promotional offer, users that purchase an annual Office 365 subscriptions will also receive a year of Xbox Live Gold for free. Not a bad deal, at all considering Office 365 Home Premium is $100 a year and Xbox Live Gold is $60 by itself.
The offer is eligible for customers in the United States who purchase a yearly subscription to Office 365 Home Premium. The promo runs from July 18, 2013 to September 28, 2013. That eligible version of Office 365 Home Premium normally includes a basic suite of Office applications for up to five PCs and five mobile devices, 20GB of additional SkyDrive storage, 60 Skype minutes (per month), and a web version of Office.
Office applications include:
- Word 2013
- Excel 2013
- PowerPoint 2013
- Outlook 2013
- OneNote 2013
- Access 2013
- Publisher 2013
With the promo, users can get a year of XBL Gold as well. Once Office 365 has been purchased, users will need to activate the subscription and then log into Office.com/xbox (before October 31, 2013) with the same Microsoft account that purchased the subscription to get a code that can be redeemed on Xbox.com or the console itself for a year of XBL Gold which gives users access to streaming services and multi-player gaming for the company’s Xbox 360 (and presumably the upcoming Xbox One) gaming console.
To find the full list of terms and conditionss for the promo, head over to this FAQ page.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | July 15, 2013 - 02:09 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox, xbox one
Two weeks have passed since Steve Ballmer informed all Microsoft employees that Don Mattrick would disembark and pursue a career at Zynga for one reason or another. Initially, Ballmer himself was set to scab the void for an uncertain amount of time, further unsettling the upcoming Xbox One launch without a proper manager to oversee. His reign was cut short, best measured in days, when he appointed Julie Larson-Green as the head of Microsoft Devices and Studios.
... because a Christmas gift without ribbon would just be a box... one X box.
Of course the internet, then, erupted with anxiety: some reasonable concerns, even more (predictably) inane. Larson-Green has a long list of successfully shipped products to her name but, apart from the somewhat cop-out of Windows 7, nothing which resonates with gamers. Terrible sexism and similarly embarrassments boiled over the gaming community, but crazies will always be crazy, especially those adjacent to Xbox Live subscribers.
Operating Systems will be filled by Terry Myerson, who rose to power from the Windows Phone division. This could be a sign of things to come for Windows, particularly as Microsoft continues to push for convergence between x86, RT, and Phone. I would not be surprised to see continued pressure from Microsoft to ingrain Windows Store, and all of its certification pros and woes, into each of their operating systems.
As for Xbox, while Julie is very user experience (UX)-focused, division oversight passed to her long after its flagship product's lifetime high-level plans have been defined. If Windows 7 is any indication, she might not stray too far away from that which has been laid out prior her arrival; likewise, if Windows 8 is any indication, a drastically new direction could just spring without notice.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | July 2, 2013 - 03:33 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, microsoft, consolitis
Well that was unexpected...
Don Mattrick, a few months ahead of the Xbox One launch and less than two months after its unveiling, decided to leave his position at Microsoft as president of Interactive Entertainment Business. This news was first made official by a Zynga press release, which announced acquiring him as CEO. Steve Ballmer later published an open letter addressed all employees of Microsoft, open to the public via their news feed, wishing him luck and outlining the immediate steps to follow.
While subtle in the email, no replacement has been planned for after his departure on July 8th. Those who report to Don Mattrick will report directly to Steve Ballmer, himself, seemingly through the launch of Xbox One. As scary and unsettling as Xbox One PR has been lately, launching your flagship ship without a captain is a depressingly fitting apex. This would likely mean that either: Don gave minimal notice of his departure, he was being abruptly ousted from Microsoft and Zynga just happened to make convenient PR for all parties involved, or there is literally no sense to be made of the situation.
However the situation came about, Xbox One will likely launch from a team directly lead by Steve Ballmer and Zynga will have a new CEO. Will his goal be to turn the former social gaming giant back on course? Or will he be there to milk blood from the company before it turns to stone?
I wonder whether his new contract favors cash or stock...
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Systems | May 23, 2013 - 06:40 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, unreal engine, ps4, playstation 4, epic games
Unreal Engine 4 was presented at the PlayStation 4 announcement conference through a new Elemental Demo. We noted how the quality seemed to have dropped in the eight months following E3 while the demo was being ported to the console hardware. The most noticeable differences were in the severely reduced particle counts and the non-existent fine lighting details; of course, Epic pumped the contrast in the PS4 version which masked the lack of complexity as if it were a stylistic choice.
Still, the demo was clearly weakened. The immediate reaction was to assume that Epic Games simply did not have enough time to optimize the demo for the hardware. That is true to some extent, but there are theoretical limits on how much performance you can push out of hardware at 100% perfect utilization.
Now that we know both the PS4 and, recently, the Xbox One: it is time to dissect more carefully.
A recent LinkedIn post from EA Executive VP and CTO, Rajat Taneja, claims that the Xbox One and PS4 are a generation ahead of highest-end PC on the market. While there are many ways to interpret that statement, in terms of raw performance that statement is not valid.
As of our current knowledge, the PlayStation 4 contains an eight core AMD "Jaguar" CPU with an AMD GPU containing 18 GCN compute units, consisting of a total of 1152 shader units. Without knowing driving frequencies, this chip should be slightly faster than the Xbox One's 768 shader units within 12 GCN compute units. The PS4 claims their system has a total theoretical 2 teraFLOPs of performance and the Xbox One would almost definitely be slightly behind that.
Back in 2011, the Samaritan Demo was created by Epic Games to persuade console manufacturers. This demo was how Epic considered the next generation of consoles to perform. They said, back in 2011, that this demo would theoretically require 2.5 teraFLOPs of performance for 30FPS at true 1080p; ultimately their demo ran on the PC with a single GTX 680, approximately 3.09 teraFLOPs.
This required performance, (again) approximately 2.5 teraFLOPs, is higher than what is theoretically possible for the consoles, which is less than 2 teraFLOPs. The PC may have more overhead than consoles, but the PS4 and Xbox One would be too slow even with zero overhead.
Now, of course, this does not account for reducing quality where it will be the least noticeable and other cheats. Developers are able to reduce particle counts and texture resolutions in barely-noticeable places; they are also able to render below 1080p or even below 720p, as was the norm for our current console generation, to save performance for more important things. Perhaps developers might even use different algorithms which achieve the same, or better, quality for less computation at the expense of more sensitivity to RAM, bandwidth, or what-have-you.
But, in the end, Epic Games did not get the ~2.5 teraFLOPs they originally hoped for when they created the Samaritan Demo. This likely explains, at least in part, why the Elemental Demo looked a little sad at Sony's press conference: it was a little FLOP.
Update, 5/24/2013: Mark Rein of Epic Games responds to the statement made by Rajat Taneja of EA. While we do not know his opinion on consoles... we know his opinion on EA's opinion:
— Mark Rein (@MarkRein) May 23, 2013
Subject: General Tech | May 23, 2013 - 01:00 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: z87, Y500, xbox one, xbox, video, Temash, Richland, podcast, pcper, msi, Lenovo, Kaveri, Kabini, Jaguar, Intel, hgst, gtx 650m, Giagbyte, ECS, asus, APU, amd
PC Perspective Podcast #252 - 05/23/2013
Join us this week as we discuss Z87 Motherboards, Xbox One, Lenovo Y500 Gaming notebook and more!
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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano, and Morry Teitelman
Program length: 1:17:01
Week in Review:
News items of interest:
1:04:30 Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
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Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Processors, Systems | May 21, 2013 - 05:26 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox
Almost exactly three months have passed since Sony announced the Playstation 4 and just three weeks remain until E3. Ahead of the event, Microsoft unveiled their new Xbox console: The Xbox One. Being so close to E3, they are saving the majority of games until that time. For now, it is the box itself as well as its non-gaming functionality.
First and foremost, the raw specifications:
- AMD APU (5 billion transistors, 8 core, on-die eSRAM)
- 8GB RAM
- 500GB Storage, Bluray reader
- USB 3.0, 802.11n, HDMI out, HDMI in
The hardware is a definite win for AMD. The Xbox One is based upon an APU which is quite comparable to what the PS4 will offer. Unlike previous generations, there will not be too much differentiation based on available performance; I would not expect to see much of a fork in terms of splitscreen and other performance-sensitive features.
A new version of the Kinect sensor will also be present with all units which developers can depend upon. Technically speaking, the camera is higher resolution and more wide-angle; up to six skeletons can be tracked with joints able to rotate rather than just hinge. Microsoft is finally also permitting developers to use the Kinect along with a standard controller to, as they imagine, allow a user to raise their controller to block with a shield. That is the hope, but near the launch of the original Kinect, Microsoft filed a patent to allow sign language recognition: has not happened yet. Who knows whether the device will be successfully integrated into gaming applications.
Of course Microsoft is known most for system software, and the Xbox runs three lightweight operating environments. In Windows 8, you have the Modern interface which runs WinRT applications and you have the desktop app which is x86 compatible.
The Xbox One borrows more than a little from this model.
The home screen, which I am tempted to call the Start Screen, for the console has a very familiar tiled interface. They are not identical to Windows but they are definitely consistent. This interface allows for access to Internet Explorer and an assortment of apps. These apps can be pinned to the side of the screen, identical to Windows 8 modern app. I am expecting there to be "a lot of crossover" (to say the least) between this and the Windows Store; I would not be surprised if it is basically the same API. This works both when viewing entertainment content as well as within a game.
These three operating systems run at the same time. The main operating system is basically a Hyper-V environment which runs the two other operating systems simultaneously in sort-of virtual machines. These operating systems can be layered with low latency, since all you are doing is compositing them in a different order.
Lastly, they made reference to Xbox Live, go figure. Microsoft is seriously increasing their server capacity and expects developers to utilize Azure infrastructure to offload "latency-insensitive" computation for games. While Microsoft promises that you can play games offline, this obviously does not apply to features (or whole games) which rely upon the back-end infrastructure.
And yes, I know you will all beat up on me if I do not mention the SimCity debacle. Maxis claimed that much of the game requires an online connection due to the complicated server requirements; after a crack allowed offline functionality, it was clear that the game mostly operates fine on a local client. How much will the Xbox Live cloud service offload? Who knows, but that is at least their official word.
Now to tie up some loose ends. The Xbox One will not be backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games although that is no surprise. Also, Microsoft says they are allowing users to resell and lend games. That said, games will be installed and not require the disc, from what I have heard. Apart from the concerns about how much you can run on a single 500GB drive, once the game is installed rumor has it that if you load it elsewhere (the rumor is even more unclear about whether "elsewhere" counts accounts or machines) you will need to pay a fee to Microsoft. In other words? Basically not a used game.
Well, that has it. You can be sure we will add more as information comes forth. Comment away!
Subject: General Tech | January 10, 2013 - 08:17 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xbox, volos, thermaltake, gaming mouse, gaming
Peripherals are not usually items that I pay much attention to at CES, but the Volos mouse from Thermaltake managed to pique my interest. The prototype mouse was spotted at the company’s CES booth amidst several new Level 10 GT mice in various colors.
The Tech Report spotted the prototype Volos mouse at the Thermaltake booth.
The Volos is a right-handed laser gaming mouse clad in matte gray with glossy black accents. The interesting bit though, lies on the left side the mouse: four colored blue, yellow, red, green Xbox-controller-style buttons and one A and B button. There is a seventh thumb button on the top-left edge of the mouse, two DPI selection buttons in the middle beneath the scroll wheel, and three additional buttons on the right side in reach of your little finger. LMB, RMB, and a white scroll wheel complete the package.
Reportedly, the mouse is not yet ready for retail, but it does suggest some interesting possibilities for gamers. Many modern games available on the PC are ports of console games, and that means that a number of games retain the Xbox controller tool tips and suggested controls. While it is possible to simply plug in an Xbox controller to pay such games, Thermaltake’s Volos mouse opens the door to a possible compromise. PC gamers would be able to keep the mouse look ad precision of their gaming mice while also being able to use Xbox-style button controls. At present, the buttons are likely used for macro activation, but it would be neat to see games auto-detect the other buttons and assign them the Xbox controls like the games do when an actual Xbox controller is recognized.
I think that I would have to actually try it out in person to determine how viable it is as a Xbox controller stand-in (ergonomically), but it at least appears to be a good idea! Tech Report has the full scoop on Thermaltake's new peripherals at CES if you are interested.
PC Perspective's CES 2013 coverage is sponsored by AMD.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: General Tech | December 21, 2012 - 12:06 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xbox, ps4, gaming, games, consoles, carmack
While Nintendo has continued to pump out new gaming consoles, both Microsoft and Sony have been sitting on the current Xbox and PlayStation hardware for years. For example, the Xbox 360 is seven years old, and yet the Redmond company does not appear to be in any hurry to advance to better hardware with a new console. Sony is in a similar mindset with its PlayStation road map.
There have been rumors for the past couple years on the next Xbox and PlayStation, but there is one thing that is certain. Once gamers do (eventually) get a new console though, it will have substantially better hardware than the current generation. And considering that the latest games on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have started to push the hardware to its limit, developers are clamoring for better hardware as their engines outgrow the consoles. Visuals are still increasing on iterative console games but the frame rates are starting to slip as a result. PC gamers have Eyefinity, multi-GPU, AA, AF, higher resolutions, and unrestricted frame rates. Meanwhile, developers that want games on both console and PC platforms have to contend with the fact that the Xbox 360 and PS3 are limited to a frame rate target of around 30 FPS. (And the latest games are jast barely able to achieve that target.)
Unfortunately, while many console gamers likely expect the next generation of consoles to set the frames per second bar higher, a statement by John Carmack suggests otherwise. On Twitter the id Software founder stated that “unfortunately, I can pretty much guarantee that a lot of next gen games will still target 30 fps.”
It is an interesting statement from the mind of a game developer. When next generation consoles do come out, they will likely push more than 30FPS on average as games built on (tweaked) existing engines will run faster on the updated hardware. However, it seems that developers are more concerned with pushing visual quality instead of framerates. As developers start pushing the new hardware, the framerates will fall towards the 30 FPS target, much like the current generation of consoles are experiencing. I suppose gamers that want unrestricted fram rates will have to stick to PC gaming for the forseeable future.
Carmack is much more optimistic about higher framerates on PC games.
Do you think gamers care about higher framerates on their consoles?
Subject: General Tech | January 31, 2012 - 04:42 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xbox next, xbox 720, xbox, gaming, 2012
The Internet has seen quite a few Xbox Next / Xbox 720 (or whatever it will end up being called) rumors over the past few months, and many gamers were likely hoping for the next generation console refresh to come in time for a holiday launch. According to Microsoft Marketing Director Cedrick Delmax; however, this is just not going to happen. Tom's Hardware quoted, from an interview with LePoint.Fr, Delmax in further stating that the "Xbox 360's cycle is not at all finished." He further tried to prove his point by saying that the Xbox 360 is not dead yet because the company did not see a need to cut the price of the current console this year. When pushed with questions about the console's competition in the Wii U (launching this Christmas season) and the eventual successor to Sony's PS3, the Microsoft spokesperson said that they would not be making any "hasty moves" and the next Xbox would come in its own time. More information including a statement from sony can be found in this separate Lepoint.fr interview.
Sticking around until at least 2013!
Well, it looks like Microsoft is really riding this horse (the Xbox 360) until it dies. Hopefully they know what they are doing and the next Xbox rises from the ashes like a Pheonix instead of crumbling because they waited too long to enter the next generation. Game developers are already starting to hit a wall in how far they can push the current consoles and will start to turn to the PC (finally) to show off their graphics prowess. What are your thoughts on this, are you satisfied with your Xbox 360, especially when compared to the graphics on current PCs (for example, Battlefield 3)?