Archives For Xbox

I don’t know what you did for lunch today, but I swung by Gamestop for what could be the biggest video game release ever. Against my better judgement, I’d pre-ordered Call of Duty: Black Ops. And my suspicions were confirmed as in-store availability looked good. But that $5 deposit was greatly rewarded with a $20 Halo Reach trade-in bonus (on top of the listed $25) bringing my total outlay to $10.74. (I’m a monogamous gamer — at my advanced age, the neurons just can’t juggle multiple titles.)

I had time for two quick Xbox Live multiplayer rounds before returning to work… which was long enough to marvel at the visuals. Wow. And apparently I’m at a disadvantage by not having picked up Black Ops last night at midnight and taking the day off, as I was the only matchmaking level 1 n00b — all others were 12 and above.

For those still stuck in the office and without the game, here are some Call of Duty Black Ops review s to whet your appetite:

Word’s out that Microsoft is now accepting volunteers for their latest Xbox Live Preview program…

The Preview Program will give you the chance to check out ESPN on Xbox LIVE, Zune music, Netflix search, the new Xbox LIVE dashboard, and new updates to Zune video and Family Settings on your Xbox 360.

Of course, there are a few caveats. You obviously have to be a Netflix subscriber to access that particular update and folks wanting in on some ESPN 3 action need an ISP that’s partnered with the sports network. Fortunately, I’m fully qualified on both counts. And seriously looking forward to some over-the-top sports. Watching Maryland/Navy a few weeks back would have been more enjoyable on the big screen over my 13″ laptop.

Request your Xbox Live early access invite here. Here’s what you’ll see should you meet the qualifications and open slots remain:

Thank you for your interest in participating. We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into the program. The program will officially start within the next two weeks.

(via Engadget)

After giving up on Blockbuster (and Gamefly) to deliver Halo Reach in a timely fashion, I paid Gamestop a visit. I generally don’t purchase many titles given my short attention span for anything other than Call of Duty. But after 5 hours with Halo Reach, I believe it’s going to work out just fine. In fact, I’ve barely scratched the surface, having yet to take a look at the campaign mode or even visit the armory to trick out my online avatar.

Of course, all this depth is a little bit overwhelming. There are a ton of multiplayer modes and submodes — I haven’t quite mastered the lingo and the game manual hasn’t been very helpful in that regard. Perhaps I once possessed this knowledge, but it’s buried deep within the recesses of my mind after a three year Halo hiatus. (Last played, 10/07.) For the moment, I’ve settled on Rumble Pit, Slayer (free-for-all mode) variants as my preferred match style. Unfortunately, it seems you’re mostly stuck with that variance as players vote on both maps and play mode between rounds. And I really want more time with the new loadouts, yet it could be every third match before I can access those “armor abilities” again.

Despite their label, armor abilities aren’t entirely or necessarily defensive and, any way you slice it, change the combat dynamics in interesting ways. Based on the competition, the jetpack seems to be a favored enhancement. It hasn’t helped me too much, as far as k/d is concerned, but it’s a whole lot of fun! It reminds me a bit of the glider from the older and underrated Shadowrun. Once I get control down, jetpacking could further enhance my love of (and destruction from) the sticky grenade. Lastly, the Mortal Combat-esque close combat fatality animations are fun to watch – even though they’re rendered quickly (as gameplay doesn’t pause) and without much bloodshed.

A periodic roundup of relevant news… from our friends at EngadgetHD:

TiVo Premiere vs Windows 7 Media Center
These are the best DVR options out there for a reason and both are very compelling. While Media Center excels in most areas that count, it is also the hardest to setup and support which means it isn’t an option for the mainstream DVR user.

Dish Network to offer live TV streaming on its free mobile apps next month
Now that the SlingLoaded ViP922 DVR is actually available from Dish Network it’s ready to offer more features from the Sling Mobile side of the menu, with plans to add free live TV (or recorded DVR program) streaming to its iPad app.

InfiniTV 4 quad CableCARD tuner is shipping
After a very long and wait since the pre-orders began, we just got the official word that the long sought after quad CableCARD tuner, the InfiniTV 4, is on US shores and has cleared customs.

Telus turns Canadian Xbox 360s into IPTV boxes
After years (and years) of waiting it’s no surprise to see the Xbox 360 finally sliding into the role of IPTV set-top box, but we couldn’t have seen Canada’s Telus being the first in North America to offer the option.

Sezmi expands Select service to 36 markets, DVR hardware drops to $150
Even at the lower price, we’ll probably wait to see when — and if — the $19.99 Select Plus package with its premium channels delivered via antenna spreads beyond Los Angeles.

Rumored for months, and speculated on for years, Hulu announced today the debut of its premium subscription service, Hulu Plus. It will cost $9.99 a month, and will offer full seasons of current shows and back-catalog series. Equally as important, Hulu Plus will be available on the iPhone, iPad, and HDTV sets supporting Samsung apps.

I have three immediate reactions to the Hulu Plus news. First, I hope nobody starts whining about the fact that Hulu is offering a paid service. It appears that the free content will remain free (at least for now), and it was patently obvious that Hulu would need to add another component to its business model. Second, while I don’t mind that Hulu is offering a paid service, the available competing options make it difficult for me to want to shell out the extra cash. Netflix gets my money now for playback on the Roku, and I’m an avid watcher of Comcast VOD.

Third and finally, money aside, I am grateful that a content provider is taking a first step in offering full seasons of content. In thinking about Google TV last month, I lamented that it didn’t really solve for anything I want in my TV life. What do I want? Full seasons of content. Good for Hulu for including that in the package.

In case you live under a rock, Microsoft announced a number of Xbox updates yesterday including the news that its refreshed Xbox 360 game console will give users access to ESPN games through the ESPN3 channel. The announcement is bigger than most people realize. Live sports events, many of which are only available through ESPN, are arguably the biggest content draw for pay-TV services. And now ESPN is giving consumers a way to bypass those providers’ video networks to view them.

There is one big caveat, however. While ESPN is bypassing traditional pay-TV pipes, it’s not bypassing the providers themselves. The ESPN3 channel, whether it’s accessed on a PC or an Xbox, requires that you have a subscription with a participating provider, e.g. Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Cox, Charter, etc. No subscription, no content.

There are two ways to look at this. On the one hand, the subscription requirement could easily be removed – technically speaking – if ESPN decided to cut out the cable and telco providers. And that would change the game entirely. On the other hand, ESPN has carefully preserved its revenue streams by having operators foot the bill even for online content, which gives the sport giant serious incentive to play nice. From a consumer perspective it might sound good for ESPN to cut out the middle man, but the company has built a very profitable distribution system. ESPN wants to expand the reach of its content, but it has no desire to disrupt the existing business model.

Internet video? Bring it on. ESPN a-la-carte? Not so much.

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As I’m not a AT&T U-verse customer, I don’t follow Microsoft’s Mediaroom television platform/experience too closely. EXCEPT when it comes to the Xbox. And I was pretty fired up when possibility of IPTV on the 360 was first announced at CES a few years ago (01/07?). However, on the consumer-front we’ve seen very little movement. During my CES briefing last year, I was told it’d be rolling out on BT (UK) in 2009. An initiative appears that appears to have died. However, here at CES 2010, Microsoft has announced that AT&T will be deploying the Mediaroom module to current or new U-Verse customers this year. And I spent some time looking at the unbranded version of Mediaroom on Xbox at this years CES briefing.

The downloadable app tunes live television and provides access to recorded content from the central unit in a whole-home U-verse household. Think of it as a thin client. For example, when you schedule a recording from the Xbox, the request is actually sent to the primary U-verse unit and the programming would ultimately be saved to that harddrive. I don’t have any hard information on pricing and timing, other than perhaps we’ll see U-verse on Xbox midyear.

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In other Mediaroom news, a significant upgrade (dubbed 2.0) has been announced for the platform. There’s tons of elements, including a video-on-demand interface redesign that emphasizes content discovery, but it’s the idea of a cloud-based DVR that interests me the most. Whole-home becomes whole-world. Access your VOD or time shifted recordings at home, from a remote computer/browser (Silverlight), or from a mobile device. Unlike Cablevision’s frequently contested (by the studios) remote storage “network” DVR, subscribers of Mediaroom 2.0 create local copies of recordings in their home. However, when on the go, they’d be granted access to similar copies of their content via the provider’s servers.

Combined with the new Mediaroom integration into Windows Media Center, it had me wondering if someone could take this whole experience over the top (OTT). Meaning, could AT&T offer television services nationwide over any broadband connection? Technically, with the integration of Microsoft’s Smooth Streaming, it can be done. However, it’s anyone’s guess if AT&T would choose to go down this path. As, in addition to a variety of other technical challenges and implications (think cap), there could also be various licensing issues (studios, municipalities) that would have to be overcome.

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The one thing that I don’t get and that Microsoft didn’t have a good answer for, is why is the company building up two separate products/interfaces (Mediaroom, Windows Media Center) that are designed to do very similar things? Seems to me they’d conserve resources and possibly produce a better product by merging these groups/initiatives. Similarly, I sure hope we see a Zune media experience on Windows Mobile 7 whenever that’s announced.