The UpStream

Microsoft Announces New Features for Xbox One Coming November

posted Sunday Aug 9, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Announces New Features for Xbox One Coming November

It has been no secret the PlayStation 4 has continually outsold the Xbox One. Microsoft is not unaccustomed to this position, having been outsold in both of their previous generations, only to gain the upper hand as they improved and added to the platform. For example, Xbox 360 sales really took off after the NXE (New Xbox Experience) in 2009. The Xbox 360 ended up being the undisputed leader of its generation.

We know that this year, the Xbox One is set to receive its equivalent of the NXE - Windows 10. Along with Windows 10 will come a slue of new features and capabilities, similar to what the 360 received with the NXE. At Gamescom 2015, Microsoft gave a lot of information about what we can expect to come along with said upgrade.

First will come an NXE-level overhaul of the controversial dashboard. While some, like myself, have loved the interface in theory, others have hated it. The changes won't be as visually drastic as the 360's transition from blades to tile groups, it will be a welcome change for most. The important change will come in its speed - a complaint that every Xbox One owner has had. Enhancing that aspect will make everyone's life easier.

As I predicted, Cortana will be taking over voice commands from the Kinect after the update. That will certainly enhance the capabilities of the voice commands above their already impressive response. It should also give more capabilities to the browser, which I assume will be swapped from Internet Explorer to Edge in the update. This means we could see the ability to draw on the web using Edge and the Kinect.

Xbox 360 backward compatibility details were also expanded. We know that around 100 games will be available at launch, and starting now all Games With Gold for Xbox 360 titles will be included in the backward compatibility list. That means that the free games included for the 360 will also be playable on the Xbox One. That will enhance the catalog of free, playable games on the Xbox One. While we may not know all 100 titles coming, we do know that all games in the Gears of War franchise will be included.

Also drawing from the Xbox 360, Microsoft showed off a Chatpad. It looks nearly identical to the one for the 360, which is a positive as the original was popular and efficient. It will clip into the controller in the same way, but adds the new features of the console, such as screenshot and 30 second video backup. The Chatpad will work on the console and Windows 10, and will be available sometime in 2016.

The most exciting information was the release date for Windows 10 on Xbox One. The new platform will release to the world in November of this year, with the preview program having begun for a very small group of testers, rolling out to more in the near future.

Verizon Wireless Goes Contract-Free With New Plans

posted Sunday Aug 9, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Verizon Wireless Goes Contract-Free With New Plans

The US wireless market has always been a bit of an oddity in the global wireless industry. Much of the world operates on the premise that you are responsible for purchasing your phone, the US wireless companies have long paid the cost of your phone up-front in exchange for you promising to stick with them for 2 years. This allowed you to spread out the cost of the device over the length of the contract, meaning you wouldn't have to pay $700 for a new iPhone (excluding the first generation).

That business model has been changing recently, however. Pushed by T-Mobile US, the North American arm of German operator Deutsche Telekom, American wireless companies have been shifting away from subsidized phone prices. T-Mobile introduced a lease program a few years back, and subsequently the other 3 major carriers implemented similar or identical programs. Now, Verizon Wireless, a wholly-American operator is taking the lead in the transition to a more European style business model.

The company's new plans will retire service contracts and phone subsidies completely in exchange for outright phone purchases or device leases and far simpler plans. In fact, all plans come with unlimited voice and text, and 4 levels of data, labeled small, medium, large and extra-large. These sizes offer 1, 3, 6 and 12GB of sharable data, respectively. Device additions are easy as well, at $20 per smartphone, $10 per tablet and $5 per connected device (smartwatches, etc.). Rob Miller, vice-president of consumer pricing, said,

Choosing a wireless plan is now easier than ever. Customers said they don't want to have to do a lot of math to figure out their best options, and we heard them. A plan with small, medium, large and x-large choices makes sense for the way people actually use their wireless service.

While the idea of abandoning contracts might sound good on its face, it is important to note one thing: A contract is an agreement between 2 parties. In the case of wireless contracts, the thing people always focused on was that they were being "locked in" to a specific carrier. There has always been an exit clause, and the buyout was often less than the price of purchasing the handset outright, making the option potentially less expensive than the new plans. On the other side, however, is the fact that the carrier is also "locked in" with you, meaning they could not change the details of your plan. Without the service agreement, technically the carriers can change the pricing of your plan over time, because there is no contract preventing it.

We have seen no-contract carriers do this in the past. MetroPCS, especially in its early days, changed the prices of plans for all of their customers a number of times (having started at $30 for unlimited data in our market). Virgin Mobile, under Richard Branson's management before becoming part of Sprint, also forced plan changes across the board with no ability for customers to remain on previous plans.

We have never seen the big 4 make this move on their no contract brands, however we have seen them force changes when handsets were upgraded. Under this plan, if Verizon discovers they have made a bad deal, they could change the pricing, similar to how your cable, power or landline phone service works.

Appeals Court Upholds Microsoft's Win Over Motorola

posted Sunday Aug 2, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Appeals Court Upholds Microsoft's Win Over Motorola

If you've been following the Microsoft-Motorola saga over the past few years, you'll know that the two companies have been feuding over royalty payments since 2012. The fighting has been so intense that Samsung decided to jump into the fray, only to end up settling out of court. Motorola, however, tried to set up injunctions and stop sales of the Xbox 360 in 2013. The case has been ongoing, with the ITC stomping on the injunction. Now, an appeals court has upheld the initial ruling of Microsoft's royalty victory and Motorola must pay up.

The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has agreed with the decision to have Motorola pay Microsoft $14.5 million for violating license agreement in relation to patents the company were using over the past five years. This finally puts Motorola in the losing position of the half-decade lawsuit, and will require all handset and tablet manufacturers using Android as their operating system to pay Microsoft royalties for use of their patents.

From the ruling,

With the parties' consent, the district court conducted a lengthy, thorough bench trial on the RAND rate and range. The court analyzed that evidence in its exhaustive findings of fact and conclusions of law, in a manner consistent with the Federal Circuit's recent approach to establishing damages in the RAND context. The court's factual findings were properly admitted at the jury trial. The jury's verdict was supported by substantial evidence, and its damages award

was proper. The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.

That's about as emphatic as it gets. The key here is that no judge before the one presiding over the case had ever ruled on what was a "fair and reasonable" basis of use for patents regarding smartphones and tablets. Well, the judge here determined that the rate of use can be pretty low, and would still fall under that clause. This sets a precedent moving forward that other companies will have to abide by. Plus, it keeps in place the funny and ironic notion surrounding the ordeal that Microsoft gets paid for each use of Android.

CBS to Live-Stream All National Ads for Super Bowl 50

posted Sunday Aug 2, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

CBS to Live-Stream All National Ads for Super Bowl 50

There's a big change brewing for the upcoming Super Bowl in February. No, it isn't going to be actual musicians for the halftime show or the introduction of self-inflating footballs. Instead, it'll be in the advertising and commercials themselves. CBS has announced that for the first time ever, the company will be live-streaming all national Super Bowl ads through its video-streaming services.

This is huge for those who have to suffer through 5 minutes of silence between every 30 seconds of live action on the field. Super Bowl 50 on February 7th will have every ad run nationally also run through the CBS live stream, as close as possible to real time. Now, advertisers will have a whole new captive audience to reach out to and have essentially been forced to finally consider the online viewer as a viable and meaningful option.

I'm all for being able to watch the ads online, as it's one of the main reasons I enjoy watching the presentation. Plus, it seems like you won't get the option to not see them, like with Adblock or other programs that block pre-roll ads. One buyer said that "It's a huge deal. They are not going to let people opt-out."

We've seen in the past a few ads make their way online, but most were repetitive and it certainly was just a fraction of the total number of commercials aired during the broadcast. Now, CBS is actually putting together packages to media-buyers that include estimated viewer counts for the Super Bowl. Last year, only 18 of the 70 advertisers opted in to the online commercials. This year, advertisers are almost going to be forced to buy both the online and the broadcast.

With last year's Super Bowl attracting 2.5 million unique viewers, 10% more than 2014 and 20% more than 2012, online viewers are an ever-growing and important group that are finally being taken seriously in the media space. As a content creator myself, this is nothing but good news, and for the average consumer, they'll finally be able to cry along with the rest of the world as the Clydesdale gets left in the rain. Or maybe it was the sudden increase of all the onions in the room. Now that I'm thinking about it, you'll have to excuse me. My nachos require me to be cutting these onions at this very moment.

Former Mt. Gox CEO Arrested for Theft of Bitcoin

posted Sunday Aug 2, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Former Mt. Gox CEO Arrested for Theft of Bitcoin

It's been over a year since we've discussed the Mt. Gox fiasco on our publication. It was mainly because the story became dull and a little redundant, with the value of Bitcoin rising and falling each day from news of another potential breach that never came about. But there was always one interesting piece of the story, and that was about all of the missing Bitcoin that was never recovered and how it got "lost" in the first place. We may have an answer to that, as the former CEO of Mt. Gox, Mark Karpales has been arrested on suspicion of stealing them.

Arrested this week in Japan, Karpales has been charged with falsifying records and exchange transactions. Tokyo police say that he manually adjusted his own account on Mt. Gox to show he had over $1 million in Bitcoin at a certain point. Considering Karpales has had prior run-ins with the law in relation to theft and fraud, this may come as no surprise to some, especially with the majority of people in the investigation agreeing on a theory that the missing Bitcoin was an inside job.

Karpales has since gone on record to deny the accusations, telling the Wall Street Journal that they were "false" and he would "of course deny" the charges against him. Neither official police spokespeople nor Karpales' attorneys have commented on the matter and the news around the arrest is a little blurry. The good news is that he can now be tried in court to determine if he in fact did steal the coins. The bad news is that a lot of people are still out a lot of money, thus going to show the ongoing instability in the digital currency.

Razer Acquires Ouya, Keeps Name but Drops Hardware

posted Sunday Aug 2, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Razer Acquires Ouya, Keeps Name but Drops Hardware

Ouya hasn't been in the news much lately, mostly because the company failed to gain momentum after a less than stellar Kickstarter launch. However, the $99 Android console has made headlines again as gaming company Razer announced that it acquired the console maker.

Rumors were swirling for weeks about a purchase, being confirmed after Ouya's CEO Julie Uhrman sent out a letter stating that she was looking to sell. Though with technical errors and hardware glitches, many thought it would be hard to sell the company. Razer has stepped in, off the success of its CES campaign, and has agreed to purchase the company as a whole. As a result, Uhrman will be stepping down and leaving Ouya once the deal is completed.

For Razer, the company will be taking the some of the hardware and software ideas from the Ouya console and will implement them onto their own hardware. With its latest product, the Forge TV, making its way into consumers' homes, combining the two Android consoles seemed to be the likely result anyway.

Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan said in a statement,

Razer has a long-term vision for Android TV and Android-based TV consoles. This acquisition is envisaged to usher more developers and content to the Android TV platform.

Razer will continue to provide support and service for Ouya for one year. After that, it will be shutting off the platform and during the interim, will be offering incentives for Ouya customers to switch over to the Forge TV. So for the 100 people that purchased an Ouya, all you'll get after a year from now is a slightly cool-looking paperweight.

However, Razer will be keeping the Ouya name, but as the publisher behind its Android TV games. Razer will be looking to expand beyond just its own hardware with the lineup of games offered, and keeping an external name for that project makes sense. This will hold special value for Razer in China, where the country just announced it's lifted bans on video game console sales. Ouya Games may make quite an impact in a fresh market.

Additionally, Razer did also announce that it is going to continue to honor Ouya's Free the Games Fund, which was a lump sum of $1 million set for developers who launched games via Kickstarter before August of last year with an intent of being sold exclusively on Ouya devices. Even though the contract sent to devs said it could be voided after a sale or bankruptcy of the company, Razer has stepped in to say that they will fulfill all of the remaining $620,000 owed to indie developers worldwide. In addition, Razer is lifting the exclusivity clause and will be allowing studios to publish their games on any platform they wish, through the newly-named Ouya game distribution channel.

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