TIME Video Games

Kinect for Xbox One by Itself Will Set You Back $150

Microsoft

It'll cost a little more than many probably hoped, but it comes with a pack-in game and it's less expensive than the Windows version.

When Microsoft launched its Xbox One games console in November 2013, it cost $500: $100 more than Sony’s PlayStation 4, and $150 to $200 more than Nintendo’s Wii U.

That steep price tag arguably cost Microsoft launch sales as well as momentum heading into 2014. Sony now claims over 10 million PlayStation 4 units sold worldwide, a record for any games console in a similar period, whereas at last check (in April, the last time we saw a formal number), Microsoft said its Xbox One had shipped to stores (distinct from sold to consumers) some 5 million units.

Surely because of that lack of momentum, Microsoft dropped the Xbox One’s price from $500 to $400 in early June, but at the expense of removing its Kinect motion-control sensor from the system.

Since June, you’ve been able to buy the Xbox One without Kinect, but if you wanted to buy the Kinect sensor separately, you couldn’t because here wasn’t a standalone Kinect SKU.

Microsoft never intended to sell Kinect as a standalone SKU, because Kinect was supposed to inextricable from the Xbox One experience. It’s removal was the boldest sea change in a series of philosophical reversals the company’s made since the system debuted.

The standalone Xbox One Kinect SKU finally has a price tag and a launch date: Microsoft announced it’ll cost $149, and you can buy it on October 7. That $149 includes a copy of Dance Central Spotlight, an upcoming music video game in the Dance Central series due out on September 2.

Yes, the math seems wonky at first blush. I suspect most assume that if the Xbox One was $500 with Kinect and $400 without, Kinect by itself ought to be $100. But there’s packaging to consider, plus intangibles like the development value of being able to depend on Kinect’s presence in a given home. And of course there’s Microsoft’s right to jack up the price any way it likes. This is a company that, for years, managed to sell a proprietary Wi-Fi USB dongle for the Xbox 360 at two to three times the asking price for similar PC parts, after all.

Microsoft says, “Kinect remains an important part of the Xbox One experience.” Never mind that claim: how important is going to come down to evidence in the coming years. Either the company’s going to release groundbreaking games and media center features or it won’t. If it doesn’t, Kinect becomes like any other secondary peripheral in the annals of console-dom: somewhat interesting, occasionally amusing, and utterly niche.

Note that Microsoft currently sells a Windows version of Kinect as well, a part that launched in July for $200 without a pack-in game. So at least from a PC gamer’s standpoint, you could argue console gamers are getting a pretty good deal.

MONEY S&P 500

3 Lessons From S&P 2000

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Getty

It has taken 16 years for the S&P 500 to climb to 2000 from 1000. Here are three takeaways for investors about the journey to the 2000 mark.

Updated: 5:45pm

On Tuesday, the index of 500 of the largest U.S. companies dashed across the 2000 level for the first time—16 years after crossing the 1000 milestone and a week after the Dow regained 17,000.

The market’s march from 1000 to 2000 will be remembered as tumultuous chapter in market history. The first S&P crossed the four-digit mark way back in February 1998, according to data from S&P Dow Jones Indices, before the bursting of the Internet bubble and the financial crisis. Between then and now, in fact, the market tumbled back to below 700 in 2009.

Here are three takeaways for investors about the journey to the 2000 mark.

1. It started in a tech rally, and it ended in a tech rally. But overall, technology has been a pretty average investment.

If you’ve been reading market news lately, you’d be forgiven for thinking the bull market is all about Apple, Google and other hot tech stocks. There’s no doubt these have been big winners: Apple APPLE INC. AAPL 0.2445% , which trades for more than $100 today, traded at a split-adjusted price of just 63 cents in February 1998, more than three years before the launch of the first iPod, according to S&P Dow Jones. But picking the next tech winner is no easy feat. On average, tech companies have delivered a total return of 6.1% a year since 1998. That’s actually slightly below the S&P’s 6.2% total return, suggesting plenty of losers and mediocrities offset a few fabulous winners.

2. The real boom was in energy.

If tech stocks are lagging the field, what’s led it? Energy stocks have been easily the best performing sector of the S&P 500, returning nearly 11% a year, on average, over the past 16 years, says S&P Dow Jones. While oil prices are is notoriously volatile, for the past 16 years they’ve made a steady climb, aside from a brief plunge during the late recession. Around $22 in early 1998, a barrel of oil is more than $90 today. Because if there’s one thing that’s arguably bigger than the Internet revolution, it’s been the the rise of developing nations like China, India and Brazil. Their growing number of factories and middle-class automobile owners have continually ratcheted up demand for energy commodities.

3. For buy-and-hold investors, dividends can be powerful over time.

While the S&P 500’s milestone is certainly worth noting, it’s also a reminder that paying too close attention to stock market swings isn’t the best strategy. While it’s taken 16 years for stock price levels to double, investors who simply bought and held stocks in a low-cost index fund could have gotten there sooner. (Somewhere around early 2013.) That’s because stock-market gauges like the S&P 500 don’t account for dividends. But if you hold a mutual fund that automatically reinvests dividends, your portfolio does. Dividends accounted for about a third of the S&P 500s average annual total return over the time it took for the index to rise from 1000 to 2000, according to S&P Dow Jones.

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Since early 1998, including dividends, the S&P 500 is up 170% as of yesterday (see the chart above), compared to almost 100% for the raw index. We’ll see if the S&P 500 can top 2000 mark today and make that a triple-digit percentage rise.

TIME Computers

(Not Very) Bold Prediction: $200 Laptops Aplenty for the Holidays

Inside a Best Buy Store Ahead of Earnings
Customers look at laptop computers at a Best Buy store. David Paul Morris—Bloomberg / Getty Images

For years — years! — we’ve been waiting for the $200 laptop.

Sure, laptops dip down to the $200 during super sales like Black Friday. And snagging a $179 Chromebook — Chromebooks are laptops too, you know — is now a relatively easy feat to achieve. Remember netbooks? Those things were known to flirt with the $200 price point toward the end of their collective lifespan, occasionally breaking through it entirely.

But the holidays this year will look different. Instead of searching, waiting, hoping — stampeding! — for a $200 computer, you’ll actually have a fair amount to choose from, and they’ll likely be in stock and regularly priced around $200 or less.

Over at GigaOM, Kevin Tofel passes along news of the so-called HP Stream 14, which was supposedly leaked to German blog Mobile Geeks. The Stream is apparently a 14-inch Windows laptop with very Chromebook-like innards that comes with 100 gigabytes of storage for two years, just like Chromebooks.

Microsoft doesn’t want to see Chromebooks continue to erode its share of low-end laptop sales. That’s straight from the horse’s mouth: As the Verge reports, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner recently said, “We’ve got a great value proposition against Chromebooks, we are not ceding the market to anyone.”

If that sounds aggressive, get this: Turner alluded to 7- and 8-inch models in this HP Stream line going for around $100 during the holidays. Aggressive indeed.

While ever-falling component costs lead to cheaper and cheaper computers, Bloomberg reported earlier this year that the licensing fee Microsoft charges hardware makers to use Windows on their machines has reportedly dropped exponentially for systems in the sub-$250 price range. It apparently dropped from $50 down to just $15, which of course paves the way for lower retail prices as well.

It’s the perfect storm: Chromebooks are popular low-end machines, and Microsoft wants to stem the tide. These aren’t going to be the most powerful computers in the history of computing, but if you’re looking for something that can handle simple tasks like email and web surfing on the cheap, you’ll have plenty of options later this year.

TIME Video Games

Reddit Comes to Xbox One First with ReddX App

It may not be the first reddit app you can browse on a TV, but it is the first one you can access through a dedicated games console.

I’m not sure a big-screen TV’s the most natural home for a glorified bulletin board, but if you’ve always wanted to browse vast fields of reddit text on your TV, Microsoft has just the thing for you: an app called ReddX for the Xbox One (as well as Xbox SmartGlass), which it describes as “the first reddit app for the TV.”

You’re going to wind up in a semantic debate with the “first for TV” thing, since not all consoles connect to TVs, and we’ve been able to screen-share whole libraries of reddit apps from mobile devices for ages. But this is the first I’m aware of someone designing a reddit app specifically for a games console, so give Microsoft props for getting out in front of that.

ReddX, available today, lets U.S. and Canadian Xbox One owners browse or zoom in on text, images and videos, as well as tap to upvote, downvote, or comment on threads, just as you can through a browser. You can optionally save images you like to your profile, or make it the ReddX app’s background. And in addition to the Xbox One controller (with or without text keypad), ReddX will take input from the Xbox One media remote as well as Xbox SmartGlass via a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Microsoft says the app can be snapped to your TV’s side while you game if you want to keep tabs on a thread, allowing you to “interact with each other in similar ways to the reddit.com experience.” That’s probably the most interesting thing about ReddX: the keeping reddit up while you’re doing something else part, a migrational Windows 7-original feature that feels even smarter on a game console.

The least interesting (but slightly amusing) thing: unlocking “media achievements named after some of the Internet’s favorite memes.” I have no idea if any of these are real, but someone’s purportedly taken screenshots of some of them.

And the first reddit thread ever created with a games console? Right this way.

TIME Video Games

Microsoft’s Xbox Tomb Raider Deal Is a Timed Exclusive After All

Xbox boss Phil Spencer won't say how long the timed exclusive lasts, only that it's not "in perpetuity."

I wondered why in the world a platform-agnostic studio like Crystal Dynamics would turn its beloved-once-more Tomb Raider franchise over to a single platform after a string of successes across multiple ones. The news out of Gamescom yesterday was that the studio would bring Rise of the Tomb Raider, its sequel to 2013’s Tomb Raider, to the Xbox One exclusively. There was no mention in the presentation of it being a timed exclusive.

Crystal Dynamics’ head of product development Darrell Gallagher said the game was “coming holiday 2015, exclusively to Xbox.” The devil’s in those two words, “holiday 2015,” it seems.

According to Eurogamer, who asked the obvious question of Xbox honcho Phil Spencer at the show, Spencer — and let’s give him credit for being willing to say this much so soon — says the exclusivity deal isn’t forever.

“When people want me to say, can you tell us when or if it’s coming to other platforms, it’s not my job,” Spencer told Eurogamer. “My job is not to talk about games I don’t own.”

And he’s sympathetic to the competition.

“I get the reaction I see,” he continues. “If I’m a PlayStation person all of a sudden I feel like, the franchise has gone.” But Spencer lays concerns he bought or somehow controls Crystal Dynamics to rest, confirming Rise of the Tomb Raider isn’t Microsoft’s forever, and that he doesn’t “own [the studio] building Tomb Raider on other platforms.”

When pressed, Spencer wouldn’t say how long the deal lasts (naturally), adding only that Microsoft has Rise of the Tomb Raider on Xbox 360 and Xbox One for holiday 2015. “What they do with the franchise in the long run is not mine,” he says. “I don’t control it. So all I can talk about is the deal I have. I don’t know where else Tomb Raider goes.”

TIME technology

These Vintage Computer Ads Show We’ve Come a Long, Long Way

These ads from the 70's and 80's remind us of a time when computers came in briefcases and cost "Under $18,000!"

TIME Video Games

Sony Says 10 Million PlayStation 4 Game Consoles Have Been Sold Worldwide

Sony confirmed the PlayStation 4's latest sales figures during its Gamescom 2014 press conference in Cologne, Germany.

At Gamescom 2014, Sony announced that it’s sold more than 10 million PlayStation game consoles worldwide since the system launched in November 2013. And that would be 10 million plucked off shelves by consumers, not just shipped to stores.

The last time the console majors rolled out unit sales specifics (around the end of March), Sony said it had sold through some 7 million PS4s, Nintendo that it had sold through just over 6 million Wii Us, with Microsoft bringing up the rear at around 5 million Xbox Ones shipped to stores. Microsoft said in July that with the Xbox One’s price drop from $499 to $399 and removal of Kinect in early June, Xbox One sales had more than doubled, but it was unclear then (as now) what the actual figures were.

TIME Innovation

Microsoft Fixes Shaky Time-lapse Videos with Hyperlapse Technology

Not unlike the elderly, time-lapse videos can be boring and shaky.

Microsoft has cobbled together technology that can smooth out the jittery, choppy first-person video footage you’d normally see captured and sped up from the likes of a wearable GoPro camera.

The feature is called Hyperlapse and it’s being demonstrated at the SIGGRAPH media conference in Vancouver on Tuesday. I could sit here and try to explain in words how it all works and how the end result looks, but you and I both know that I’m going to drop a video into the middle of this post riiight… abooout… here:

Couple thoughts: A) It looks pretty great and B) I need to do more outdoor activities. These guys are rock climbing and riding bikes in their spare time. I just binge-watched a bunch of Love It or List It Too episodes that I’ve already seen before.

There’s a great money-quote from Microsoft’s blog post on the project as well:

Standard video stabilization crops out the pixels on the periphery to create consistent frame-to-frame smoothness. But when applied to greatly sped up video, it fails to compensate for the wildly shaking motion.

Hyperlapse reconstructs how a camera moves throughout a video, as well as its distance and angle in relation to what’s happening in each frame. Then it plots out a smoother camera path and stitches pixels from multiple video frames to rebuild the scene and expand the field of view.

Put another way, it’s akin to the human brain’s ability to fill in blind spots by “hallucinating” on the person’s behalf.

See? You learn about the technology and then you’re rewarded with some hallucination.

As for when people like you and me might be able to get our hands on this Hyperlapse technology in order to cut together our own sweet time-lapse videos — imagine watching me watch 10 hours of Love It or List It Too in amazing Hyperlapse — the researchers say they’ve managed to streamline the rendering process so that it can be done on a single computer. There’s no hard-and-fast timeframe for its release, though the researchers say the goal is to “eventually” release it to the public.

[TechCrunch]

TIME Advertising

Microsoft Gets Revenge for Those Old ‘Mac vs. PC’ Ads

Cortana vs. Siri, round one: Fight!

+ READ ARTICLE

Correction applied Tuesday, July 29

One of Apple’s first effective assaults on Microsoft’s tech empire was the Mac vs. PC ad campaign, which cast Windows computers as devices for schlubby nerds and Macs as tools for cool creatives. The battlefield has now shifted from desktops to smartphones, but Microsoft is taking a cue from Apple’s old campaign with a put-down ad of its own.

In a new pitch for Cortana, Microsoft’s digital personal assistant, the company pits a Windows Phone boasting the software against an iPhone with Siri. As Cortana effortlessly answers a user’s questions, Siri fumbles its responses and is eventually forced to admit, “Now that is a smart phone.”

The ad, which features a Lumia 635 Windows Phone, mainly shows off Cortana’s contextualization abilities. The assistant can use geofences to issue reminders when users arrive at a specific location or automatically serve up messages when a specific person calls. Some reviewers have still found Siri to be a more helpful assistant overall, so it’s likely this new version of “Mac vs. PC” will continue to be hotly debated.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the feature set of Siri. The software does use geofencing to set location-based reminders.

 

TIME Smartphones

Microsoft Windows Phone Ad Pokes Fun at Siri

+ READ ARTICLE

Apple’s Siri virtual assistant seems equal parts nervous and impressed in the above video, as Microsoft’s new-ish Cortana virtual assistant breezes through a list of date- and location-based reminders before informing her owner that he’d better hop in the car so he can beat the traffic. Frequent Google users might be quick to point out that Google Now can perform similar feats, though this beef is between Microsoft and Apple.

The ad is reminiscent of Microsoft’s previous Surface Tablet versus iPad ads, though perhaps somewhat buried in this newest one is that the Windows Phone handset being used — the Nokia Lumia 635 — cost $129 without a wireless contract. The iPhone 5s shown in the ad costs $649 contract-free from Apple, for comparison.

Still, showing off virtual assistants makes for a futuristic demo, regardless of how often people in the real world actual leverage the features shown in the ad. Microsoft has infused the latest version of Windows Phone with a bunch of other neat tricks, too, so maybe it’ll show some of them off in future ads as well.

[The Verge]

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