The UpStream

VR Goggle Oculus Rift Picks Up $75 Million in Round of Funding

posted Sunday Dec 15, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

VR Goggle Oculus Rift Picks Up $75 Million in Round of Funding

I know we haven't really talked about the Oculus Rift much, but better late than never, right? Oculus VR, the virtual-reality goggle maker, has raised another $75 million of funding for their gadget that was announced at CES 2012, Oculus Rift. Netscape founder Marc Andreessen's investment group was the majority backer in the round. Other players in the funding were Spark Capital, Matrix Partners and Formation 8, who were all in on the $16 million fundraising session in June.

Sources are reporting valuation of Oculus VR at $250 million so far, with this last influx of cash being the largest in the history of the company. For those unaware, Oculus Rift is a pair of goggles that links up with your controller or mouse and keyboard to truly enhance your gaming experience. In a first-person shooter, it gives you an ability to move your head and look around, while keeping your weapon pointed in a completely different direction. Some who have tried it say that it really immerses you in the experience, to the point where a roller coaster simulator program on Oculus Rift actually got one tester sick.

Originally on Kickstarter, with sets of the goggles being sent out to developers for around $300, the buzz has become pretty intense for the virtual reality gadget. And the amount of success that Oculus has experienced is something that 19-year-old founder Palmer Luckey couldn't have predicted when he presented the Rift as a duct-tape prototype.

On the $75 million of investment capital to the company, CEO of Oculus, Brendan Iribe, said that Andreessen Horowitz, Marc Andreessen's firm, is a perfect partner in a situation like this, especially when you have so many demands to meet.

The challenge of hardware companies is you have to be able to buy the goods. And to be able to float tens of millions of dollars when you're a startup is virtually impossible. You cant go from zero to organic launch without tens of millions of preorders, and you have to take them years ahead, so we're trying to balance that. Andreessen Horowitz has a significant staff that really engages with you and helps you solve those kinds of problems.

This will be the last round of funding for quite some time. Iribe added that, "We're certainly planning for this to be it as far as funding until the consumer version launches."

As a person who has played a round of Team Fortress 2 in a custom lobby optimized for Oculus Rift, I'm really excited to see the product progress so quickly and head to production beyond just dev kits. There's still a few details to iron out before it hits the manufacturing plant but Oculus is looking to launch the Rift by holiday of 2014. Check out the link below for a full interview with Brendan Iribe.

Microsoft to Offer a Full Lineup of Original Programming in the New Year

posted Sunday Dec 15, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Microsoft to Offer a Full Lineup of Original Programming in the New Year

If you want more proof that Microsoft's Xbox One is truly meant for all walks of life, we have it this week. Microsoft announced that the company will be launching its first batch of original programming on the Xbox One and also the Xbox 360 sometime in early 2014. This would put the next-gen console in direct competition with Amazon Instant Video, Hulu and Netflix, which all currently offer original content on their services. The difference here is that both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One will have content on a platform that Microsoft has complete control over.

Nancy Tellem, president of entertainment and digital for Microsoft, headed up an effort to create content for Xbox back in 2012, so the fact that we're already coming close to a potential launch is impressive. About the news, she said,

I'm incredibly ambitious and impatient. We're hoping we will be able to put something up in the first quarter, at minimum second quarter.

Of course, we saw a beginning glimpse of this back at E3 when Steven Spielberg teamed up with Xbox to start production on a Halo project. But it appears that's just the tip of the original programming iceberg for the center of all family entertainment in the living room. Given that Microsoft currently has 48 million Xbox Live subscribers, adding a lineup of appealing content to different demographics on the platform could give more reason for users to stay committed to the service, especially when the PlayStation Network and other companies are trying to detract customers from the Xbox hive.

Tellem is a bit disappointed it took this long, but promised that the delivery will be worth the wait. She also said that this isn't just another Netflix competitor launching a service to the masses, noting that it was hard for her to explain to production companies just exactly what Xbox was and how it plays in the market space.

We aren't Netflix, we aren't Amazon, we're a different animal. We're neither or we're a little like them. It all depends. The lack of black and white and this is the template and this is what we're following is very difficult. As we continue to do deals everyone's going to get more comfortable.

No details yet on exactly what kind of shows or movies we'll see, but we have heard we might get some word of that on or around the time of the International Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Spotify Goes Completely Free for Mobile and Tablets

posted Sunday Dec 15, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Spotify Goes Completely Free for Mobile and Tablets

While Beats might be just looking to enter the music-streaming space, Spotify is looking to enhance its presence. The company that is actually trying to change how much streaming services get paid by the music labels is now adding to its offerings with an announcement this week that streaming has now been added as a free service to mobile devices and tablets.

Spotify, now available in 55 markets worldwide by launching an additional 20 new markets along with the announcement, will be giving users everywhere access to the entire catalog of music from any compatible smartphone or tablet for free. Here's what free-streaming on mobile devices with Spotify looks like:

  • Your music: Listen to all the playlists you've created and playlists from the people you follow. Spotify lets you discover new music, save, shuffle and share.
  • Your favourite artists: Want to listen to a certain artist? Just hit shuffle play, sit back and listen to their entire catalogue. Don't settle for something similar. Don't settle for just one track from the artist you want to hear every 20 minutes.
  • Discover great new playlists: Going for a jog or to the gym? We've got the playlist to help you go the extra mile. We know you just want the perfect music for a specific moment in time - and we've got you covered. There's something for every mood, genre or moment.

Spotify said that the company understands more and more people are using their tablets instead of their desktops to steam music, so it was a natural next-step to take. CEO and Founder Daniel Ek said,

Today we're giving people the best free music experience in the history of the smartphone and the tablet. Whether you're going to the gym, or having a party with friends. Just sit back and let Spotify serve you great music for every moment of your life.

Unfortunately, Spotify's free music experience on the tablet side of things is only available on iOS and Android. This technically means only Windows 8 RT devices are currently out of the running for free music from Spotify, as the desktop app runs perfectly on Windows 8/8.1. The good news is that there is a rumor of a Windows 8 app from Spotify, so hopefully we'll see that sooner rather than later.

Nokia-Microsoft Deal One Step Closer to Complete

posted Saturday Dec 14, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Nokia-Microsoft Deal One Step Closer to Complete

One of the stranger hurdles in the Nokia transition to Microsoft has been a handset factory in India. The factory in question was seized by the Indian government because of owed taxes from Nokia regarding software licenses. The seizure meant that Nokia did not technically own the facility, which was scheduled to change hands to Microsoft.

This week, Nokia and the Indian government have worked out a deal to unfreeze Nokia India's assets in exchange for keeping a security account of roughly $365 million. The factory, even during the freeze, employed 7,000 people and continued to produce handsets for the company.

Nokia India has said that, even if the tax issue had not been settled, the purchase would have gone on without a hitch, having a contingency plan. The idea was that the factory would work as a contractor for the new Microsoft hardware division, providing Microsoft handsets exclusively. It can be assumed that, at some point, the factory could have transitioned to Microsoft had all tax issues been resolved in the future.

As it turns out, these types of tax issues are commonplace in India, whose tax laws are famously complex. Vodafone, a major international wireless carrier and soon-to-be former stakeholder in Verizon Wireless, has a dispute with the Indian government over tax issues related to a purchase within the country.

Intel to Unload OnCue on Verizon [Rumor]

posted Saturday Dec 14, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Intel to Unload OnCue on Verizon [Rumor]

When GTE originally joined the Verizon family, one of the businesses that Verizon acquired and immediately sold off AmeriCast, GTE's fledgling cable company. That company was sold to Knology with the agreement that Verizon could not pursue any business in those markets that would compete with Knology for a period of several years. Verizon agreed to these demands because why would Verizon want to be in the content delivery business, right?

Fast forward to today, when FiOS and RedBox Instant are big business for Verizon, though market penetration for FiOS is low because of their original deal with Knology. So, in a day and age when content delivery is the business to be in, how do you expand your business? By buying another, failed company.

Enter Intel's OnCue, a web-TV service that has failed to attract content or enough momentum to offer the service publicly. It does, however, own a large amount of fiber-optic infrastructure, which Verizon desperately needs. So, with Intel's fiber and Verizon's FiOS content, this certainly seems to be a match made in heaven.

A deal has not been announced, though Bloomberg believes that an announcement could be made as early as this coming week. This will be good news to Intel, whose new leadership decided that this business did not fit in with the company's goals and should be sold off. As Intel regains its focus on chips, with renewed vigor in the mobile space, OnCue would simply be in their way.

Twitter Redefines Block as Mute, Reverses Decision

posted Saturday Dec 14, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Twitter Redefines Block as Mute, Reverses Decision

Twitter made an interesting decision this week: to redefine a word. At some point, someone at Twitter decided that "block" would be better defined by the same qualities as "mute" and implemented changes to the system to accomplish this English language upgrade.

Previously, blocking someone would alert them, and they would no longer be able to interact with your account or any of its tweets. On Thursday, none of that was the case; instead, no alert and the "blocked" account could still interact with you, but you would no longer see it in your feed. That's better, right?

Of course not. That was a ridiculous change that no one in their right mind could ever think was a good idea, nor would anyone want or expect Twitter to function as such. Because of this obvious fact, the Internet did what the Internet does and revolted. People took to the service to run Twitter through the wringer. As a result, Twitter made an interesting decision, and did it in VERY short order.

Earlier today, we made a change to the way the "block" function of Twitter works. We have decided to revert the change after receiving feedback from many users - we never want to introduce features at the cost of users feeling less safe. Any blocks you had previously instituted are still in effect.

So: bad decision, lots of code, angry customers, decision reversed, code irrelevant. So recently after an IPO, it is not a great idea to show your new investors that you don't understand how your customers use your product or that you don't know what they want. However, it is a great opportunity to show your investors that you are willing to listen to your customers, even if after the fact, and reverse a decision for the greater good.

Whether you support the decision or not, I think we all have to congratulate Twitter on a swift and decisive act for their customers.

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