The latest release of Chrome (27), now available for download, adds Google’s conversational voice se
The latest release of Chrome (27), now available for download, adds Google's conversational voice search. For more details on this feature, check out our coverage from I/O
You can have a lot of fun making music, but getting a good recording and arrangement of your song requires some work and knowledge. Last week we set up a home recording studio
You probably heard Microsoft mention that the new Xbox One
After holding one for a few minutes, I can say officially that the Xbox One controller is very nice. It's just more comfortable. This comes from a variety of alterations, like moving the batteries into the controller itself to making the back one solid piece, but the biggest change is moving the center of gravity closer to your body, giving you less to prop up on the far end. Think of holding out a baseball bat with a 10 pound weight on the very tip versus right up on your hands. It just makes sense.
The improved D-Pad is far, far easier to use than the current version's, the analog sticks have an easier to handle give to them, and the center Xbox button is moved farther up, which feels a little more natural (though it'll be more of a pain to use if you use it often like me). Overall, it's supposed to fit in more hand sizes more comfortably.
But that rumbling. It really does seem like it can add a better immersive experience. Microsoft set up a few stations for us to try out the new controllers, with six demos of how the effect can be used in actual gaming scenarios, or at least gimmicky ones. Here's a quick and dirty rundown of each. The green highlights in each video, which were shown on screen, are below.
Here you see a wheel coming to a slow stop, and you feel that through the controller. But as it slows down, the tick tick tick of the spokes is felt in the left trigger, in short bursts that line up with what's on the screen. Pretty cool.
Here's a standard gun being fired, and each time it shoots, the right trigger and only the right trigger fires a rumble. It feels very, very cool when you're just holding the controller, but a little less so when you're actually pulling the trigger (it was automated in the demo) as the gun fires, because you get less sensation from pressing down.
Here's a helicopter flying in and out of the frame, and the rotors rumbling back and forth, in asymmetrical unison to simulate the blades. There was some additional movement in the demo where it was falling and came back up, tilted to the right, and one finger fired up much higher as it banked to save itself. It feels infinitely more like a helicopter than regular old rumbling, at least to my brain.
This demo is deceptively cool. As the fire rumbles up in your hands, you get a medium burst, but as you throw it, the rumbles change slightly, and shift more toward your finger tips. You actually feel the momentum.
The last demo was of a heart monitor, but the video was ruined because I'm sort of dumb, so here's a pic of the station. The demo itself was what you'd expect, with the pulses of the controller following the heart beat across the screen, across your fingers.
Seems like you can learn anything these days by watching a video online. Here’s one more site that let’s you do that.
PopExpert is an open marketplace that connects skill and advice-seekers with so-called experts for one-on-one video sessions. Today, the company announced a $2 million funding round led by Learn Capital, including participation by Jeff Skoll’s Capricorn Investment and angels like Founders Fund’s Ken Howery.
The service works similarly to any other peer-to-peer marketplace: Anyone who deems themselves an “expert” in something can list their services on the site. The service focuses mostly on lifestyle areas, like yoga, nutrition or style. Work-related areas include career coaching and social media skills. Each individual consultant decides how to price the hour-long session – ranging from $30 to $250. The site is invite only for now, but founder and CEO Ingrid Sanders says she plans to open it up to the public this summer.
The online learning space has been heating up considerably. (In fact, PandoDaily devoted all of last month to exploring the realm of online education). Big sites with big cash behind them, like Udacity, or Lynda.com with its $103 million investment from Accel and Spectrum, have been pushing the educational video space forward. CreativeLIVE does the same thing, but with a live production element.
PopExpert, though, focuses more on areas around development and growth, says Snyder, and not the academic, “IQ-based learning” that some of the other sites highlight. Those topics around personal growth, she says, are underserved by technology.
But the site PopExpert is most like is Maestro Market, a site launched in 2008 that also pairs advice seekers to advice givers. That site also has verticals devoted to things like wellness and nutrition, but also has the Lynda-ish subject matter of phtography or design. The difference maker here, Sanders says, is the ecosystem of the website. On a marketplace like Maestro Market, a consumer and expert link up through the website, but then connect via phone or Skype. On PopExpert, the two parties meet online at a dedicated URL within the site’s network for a video chat. Users can also take private notes while on the video session, and send files back and forth with the consultant while the lesson is going on.
It’s also notable that, for the most part, experts on PopExpert’s marketplace aren’t vetted. There’s a laissez-faire element to it, and Sanders has put her faith in the social graph to let the cream rise to the top. She says that user ratings, reviews, but more importantly, seeing who your Facebook friends are using and reviewing, will give you the best match. There are some downsides to that, especially if an expert is just starting out on the site and is largely untested. Then it’s hit or miss.
The exception is when the PopExpert team goes and recruits experts to populate the marketplace. (There are about 1,000 on the platform, Sanders says.) In that case, they look at background info, like number of years practicing a skill, but also number of years teaching it.
Perhaps a good editorial rating system would help, alongside the user ratings. Because if I’m going to shell out money, I’m going to need someone to be an expert on the experts.
We love hackintoshes—the OS X-compatible computers you build yourself—but finding a compatible build requires some effort. Hackintosh master tonymacx86 offers up the latest working builds so you know the machine you'll build will work.
The new Kinect is kind of awesome. Just by the numbers, it's a huge upgrade. You can see (most of) the full walkthrough we saw just a bit ago here at Microsoft's Redmond campus in the video above. Parts are jaw-dropping.
The demo is of a live action Kinect unit, which will be included with the new Xbox One. Right from the start, you can see the improved depth sensor. It's three times as sensitive, and can pick out bits as small as your t-shirt wrinkling or adjusting on your chest. The 60-degree-larger field of view helps here as well (up to six people can be on screen at once), and it has a deeper field of (accurate view, too).
And oh man, the IR sensing. It's seeing in a pitch black room! That is, like, totally absurd. And should be cool for using the Kinect at night, or for horror games, where you don't want to play in a well-lit room. Or just, you know, watching any movie ever.
The new 1080p cameras are a wide field of view, which we saw in greater detail during the Skype demo with four chat partners, and looks great, but no one's too concerned about that.
The truly impressive stuff, though, comes from the brains of the Kinect. Its improved skeleton mapping is crazy accurate, and can track your individual hand motions and shoulder shrugs. The muscle tracker is also borderline ridiculous. It can tell what parts of your body have pressure on them. It knows where you're putting your weight as you lean side to side, and how much power goes into each motion, by tracking speed. It knows if you lob a slow fake punch, and it knows if you slice a fast uppercut through the air, and shows you with popping white circles around your fists or feet or head. Orientation tracking is cool as well, and will apply more to how your character moves around in games.
The heart rate monitor, which reads your heart rate just by freaking LOOKING AT YOU, seems pretty accurate, but we obviously weren't able to test against an actual heart monitor. Still, do you see this, guys, seriously this is a thing that will be in living rooms. It's very cool.
The face recognition recognizes you, personally, and can tell if you're "engaged" or not engaged, meaning if you say "Xbox pause" while not looking at the TV, it won't listen to you. This seems like something you'd maybe want to turn off, but it's still impressive it can read your expression and know if you're happy, sad, or bored.
Kinect 2 doesn't just see you, though; it can hear you too. In fact, it can hear your voice, specifically, through whatever ambient game and/or movie noise that's going on around you. Want to give a command in the middle of a particularly loud concert video or melee? You don't have to shout for Kinect 2 to listen and comply.
Calling this feature set impressive is an undersell. It's breakthrough technology on many levels, with applications far beyond watching content or playing games. It's the future, and we all get to see it today.
Microsoft’s vision for television’s future looks a lot like the future of personal computers. The company today revealed the Xbox One, a combination Windows device, videogame console, and set-top box meant to inject Xbox — and Microsoft — into everything you might use a television for, whether it’s watching a football game, video-conferencing with family, playing games, or browsing the Web.
Xbox One effectively creates what might be called the first genuinely “smart” television. You’ll be able to talk to Xbox One by saying “Xbox” and issuing a command; the device is capable of reacting to your gestures and movements, thanks to the built-in Kinect sensor; and you can control it with a smartphone or tablet via the integrated SmartGlass service. Using a television set or videogame console used to involve a game of let’s-find-the-remote and a series of button presses; now it will be more like talking to a personal assistant who reacts to every word and motion.
That should sound familiar. Google has been trying to do the same with its Voice Search and Google Now services, which react when you say “Okay, Glass,” or “Okay, Google,” and Apple is doing something similar with its virtual assistant, Siri. Leap Motion recently raised $30 million to bring its gesture-based technology to desktop computers and, eventually, mobile devices. A number of startups are attempting to bring such controls to televisions, and both Google and Apple are either working on or rumored to be working on their own living room products.
Microsoft has simply taken all of those features and brought them to the Xbox, turning the videogame console into an harbinger for the future of its — and maybe, eventually, the rest of the industry’s — products. There’s a reason why Microsoft asked the tech press to schlep it up to Seattle today instead of announcing the Xbox One during the E3 videogame conference: The Xbox One isn’t about videogames. Sure, it can still play them, and Microsoft has improved the gaming experience alongside the new entertainment and computing features, but this is the first Xbox built specifically to be something more than a videogame console.
Today’s announcement highlighted the Xbox One’s new Windows-like interface, Skype’s arrival on the device, the Xbox One’s ability to control your television and insert itself between you and your cable box, and a partnership with the NFL before showcasing any videogame-related features. The Xbox 360 (the current version of the console) became an all-in-one entertainment device almost by accident; its primary function was to play videogames, but it also allowed you to watch Netflix, listen to music, or perform other entertainment-focused functions as a side-show. Xbox One is meant to be an all-in-one (no pun intended) device from the start.
It took decades for computers to leave our living rooms and offices and become part of our everyday — and every minute — lives. Now we have computers in our pockets, on our wrists, in our cars, and in front of our faces. The future will see even more devices fall into the “computer” category, whether that involves building a “smart” refrigerator, an assortment of Internet-connected devices or, as Microsoft and others are trying to do right now, television sets. It’s no longer enough for a company to build smartphones or tablets. We’re living in the Internet of everything, and it’s about time TVs were included in that category.
The Xbox brand puts Microsoft in a prime position to realize that connected future. With more than 76 million Xbox 360 units sold, chances are good that you or someone you know owns an Xbox. Or perhaps you’ve heard of the “Halo” franchise, of which over 50 million games have been sold. Microsoft has thrown its weight behind the Xbox brand, using it to market its music and video services and, justifiably, anything even remotely related to gaming.
Maybe it’s best to think of the Xbox as the App Store for entertainment and, well, actual software. Microsoft has the opportunity to connect many disparate services — Amazon Prime Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus, its own Xbox Video service, and more — and collect them all under one dominant platform, much in the same way that Apple corralled software into its own App Store or videos, music, and books into the iTunes store. The Xbox One is the only device to corral all of those services, videogames, the Web, Skype, and your existing cable service into one place. And, until the Apple TV, Roku set-top boxes, or similar products are able to play blockbuster videogames, the Xbox One will remain the king of the living room.
The Xbox One is a videogame console in name only — it has less to do with gaming than it does with general computing. But it owes a lot to previous consoles, which genuinely were meant mostly for videogames, because without them Microsoft would be in the same position as Apple, Google, and every other company scrambling to make it into the living room.
Xbox may have started out as a gaming console, but it has become so much more.