Monday, February 11, 2013

XBOX Media Center, Kinect + Bing, and Smartglass pack quite the punch!

Today on Tech News Today they were talking about smart TVs, the limits of their user interfaces/remote controls, and the ability to easily find content across multiple applications. They said the Apple and Google TV products had some issues, but I was surprised that nobody mentioned the XBOX with Bing search and Kinect voice controls. I have been using the XBOX 360 and a Windows 7 Home Theater PC (with Cable Card tuner) as my DVR of choice for over 4 years now and it still consistently meets or exceeds my expectations when it comes to having a "smart television":

  1. CableCard+Centon multi-stream tuner records up to 4 full HD shows at once directly from Comcast
  2. Integrated TV Guide (with free updates) makes searching and selecting TV shows very easy
  3. XBOX 360 as a "Media Center Extender" lets me watch in multiple rooms
  4. Multiple input options: standard remote control, XBOX wireless controller, or Kinect for hands free control of XBOX video and search features (no support yet in Media Center however)
  5. New SmartGlass application for iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone provides "2nd screen" content and some limited remote control options (works well with the new IE browser on XBOX)
  6. Unlimited storage on HTPC and it can stream ripped DVDs, movies, music, and pictures too
  7. Bing search provides exactly the content search feature that Tom was asking about (See video below)
  8. Microsoft has recently added many of the popular online media services to XBOX Live (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Flixster, MTV, HBO, FOX, Slacker Radio, Vimeo, Youtube, etc)
  9. XBOX Music and Video marketplace has a large selection of TV and Movies available for purchase (I have often used these if my DVR misses an episode)
  10. Windows Media Center has a very high Wife/Girlfriend Acceptance Factor and requires very limited support once it is setup
  11. The recently released Internet Explorer app on XBOX 360 works very well for watching TNT and other TWIT shows on the big screen :-P
For Tom's example of finding where to watch "The Following", I was able to use the Kinect and simply say "XBOX Bing The Following" to quickly find episodes on XFinity (Comcast's online Video On Demand), Hulu Plus, Xbox Video Marketplace, VUDU, and even directly from the Fox App (although this requires a Verizon or Dish Network subscription to work on XBOX for some reason). I recorded a video of the process and uploaded it to (Best viewed in HD)

I will admit I usually use a normal remote control or XBOX controller with chat keyboard instead of Kinect, but there are times that using voice control can come in handy (and some of the games are still wicked cool). Sadly Windows 8 now requires that you purchase Media Center as a separate add-on from the Windows Store, but hopefully that means they will invest more resources into adding new features and better integrating it into the next XBOX console.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Windows 8 Preview at D9: An innovative blend of desktop, tablet, and phone designs.

Windows-8-start-menuToday was a pretty slow news day, up until a few interviews at the All Things Digital D9 conference started lighting up the social networks this afternoon. The conference opened yesterday with Actor Jane Lynch setting the mood, followed up with Eric Schmidt talking about privacy and the “Gang of four” platform war. Today there were interviews with the CEOs of Twitter, HP, Groupon, Adobe, Netflix, Square, and Alibaba among others. Near the end of the day Walt Mossberg interviewed Microsoft Windows President Steven Sinofsky and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, which is when my twitter feed started to explode with interesting comments.
Sadly there was no streaming video, but I was able to follow along a bit using the live blogging from Ina Fried for the Microsoft and Nokia interviews. The thing that really caught my eye was the video that Microsoft released that previews the new features in the next version of Windows, codenamed Windows 8:

In the video they showed a new Start screen that looks a lot like the start screen in Windows phone but has been optimized to work in a widescreen tablet format with larger live tiles and a more vivid color scheme. They also showed off new multitasking gestures for switching applications or snapping them to the side of the screen, as well as a touch based keyboard with Ctrl and arrow keys and support for a thumb based layout. Microsoft also demoed the software running on a wide range of computers: everything from tablets to slates to laptops and devices without touchscreens:
There are still a lot of questions to be answered about the new features in Windows 8 that were not answered by Steven Sinofsky at D9, but Microsoft is saving those for their new Build Windows developers conference later this September. Many .NET developers will be very interested in learning more about the new HTML5/JS development framework (myself included), and I may even cough up the money to go to the conference in person. I really hope that they release a public beta like they did with Windows 7, so that I can start playing around with it before it is released sometime in 2012/2013.
The interview with the CEO of Nokia was also very interesting, although I wish they would release the full uncut version instead of just the highlights. Like the HP interview there was a lot of interesting tidbits, but you lose sense of the context when there are lots of quick jumps in the video/audio. All in all it was a great conference, and followed previous years that showed features in Bing (D7 2009) and Windows 7 (D6 2008) (Video: one and two). Makes me anxious to see what will be previewed at D10 and beyond.
Update: Looks like there was more Windows 8 coverage over at Computex 2011 in Taipei today. Engadget has great coverage on their live blog, with pictures of ARM based netbooks and tablets and a few more technical details about Windows 8. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Girl Walks into a Bar, Hollywood goes to YouTube, and lots of other movie cliché's

I just watched "Hollywood's first feature-length film created specifically for the Internet" on YouTube tonight called Girl Walks into a Bar. It has a marginally interesting plot (but a weak ending), a surprising number of notable actors, lots of cheesy/over-reaching dialog, and is pretty racy in both visuals and subject matter. It is estimated to have cost $1M, was shot in 11 days about a year ago (March 2010), and had over 250,000 views in it’s first weekend. This supposedly means it had more viewers than “some of the top  10 biggest grossers” at the box office that week, but it was free and had an interesting preview picture of a nude ping-pong bar, so I’m actually surprised it didn’t have even more views.

My recommendation would usually be "wait until it hits Netflix" so I'm not quite sure what to say in this case :-P It is labeled as an “Intelligent, witty movie”, but to me came off as trying to be a bit like Sin City without any fight scenes or Jessica Alba (although Alexis Bledel did play a minor role). It is currently available at the YouTube Screening Room, but only in the USA and is sponsored by Lexus (Six 15 second ad spots in the 80 min video) so at least you don't have to pay 8 bucks to go see it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

eBay apps highlight differences between Windows Phone 7, iPhone, Blackberry, and Android UI

Windows Phone 7 devices are officially on their way now, and the new tiles and hubs User Interface has a lot of people talking (good and bad). I’ve been working on an app for about a month now (more info soon at or follow on twitter) and have gotten to play around with the device and have to say it does seem to flow pretty well. It is interesting to compare and contrast the approaches used when designing for Windows Phone7 vs iPhone, Blackberry, or Android. A great example of this is comparing the eBay application for different platforms.

The eBay application for Windows Phone 7 was added to the Zune marketplace today and features many of the new UI design patterns (Tiles, panorama, pivots, user customizations) and phone features (Messaging, real-time notifications, back button).



The iPhone eBay application has all the same features, and while it strikes me as a bit more polished than the WP7 version I do prefer the web style navigation in WP7 vs the various buttons/tabs used to navigate around the iPhone apps. Once you start using the hardware back/search buttons and Appbar icons you can easily navigate around any application on the Windows Phone 7 because things are very consistent.



The Android eBay application also has the same features, but looks a bit clunky, which is how I feel about most Java based user interfaces.


While the Blackberry application has most of the same features, the UI is designed to be used by the trackball or trackpad so it looks a bit different. It is still very functional, but I like the touch optimized UI better.


It also is interesting to look at the eBay iPad application and the Silverlight based eBay Simple Lister application for PC/Macs. They do a pretty good job of highlighting the strengths of each platform and are a great way to evaluate pros/cons of each. With the iPad you can really see why Live Tiles make sense over a “Sea of app icons”.  I guess it could be worse. :-P

Anyway, I am excited to see more competition in the wireless space, as it will keep everyone innovating and creating better products.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Windows Phone 7 = Pocket-Xbox!

I wasn’t going to post tonight, but Scott Guthrie said I had to, so here goes. You probably have figure out by now that smart phones are trying to replace all of the basic computer usage scenarios in our lives. Calculator… check, Music player… check, GPS Navigation… check, Recording studio… check. Not to mention more web browsing, social networking, and geo-location than you can shake a stick at! One area that I feel that phones have been lacking is hardcore gaming. Sure there are plenty of casual games (and fart apps), but give a 12 year old the choice between an iPhone and a PSP or Nintendo DS and you will quickly find out which one is the real gaming platform.

I think Microsoft has a chance to change this with their upcoming Windows Phone 7 line-up. The new phone will allow game developers to use the xna platform, which currently powers home-brew and indie games on xbox and windows, to easily build 3D games that would make an iPhone developer blush with envy. Microsoft sees this as one of their advantages and they already have more than a dozen big gaming titles scheduled for release with the launch of Windows Phone 7 later this year. Basically they want people to think of Windows Phone 7 as an xbox that fits in your pocket.

Not to be left behind… I plan on jumping on the mobile-phone-gaming-band-wagon myself in the near future. While I will not be creating a blockbuster 3D game, I will be exploring the world of social games that you can play using your phone with your real friends in real life, so stay tuned if you want more details.

Oh, and one side note: I have started using Google Buzz as a way of sharing videos and quick links that I find while browsing the web or my Google Reader feeds. Basically if something is hehe or haha funny it will probably show up on my buzz feed, where as if it is LOL or OMG funny I will still try and create a post here on my blog. If you want to see all of the things that I post you can follow me on Buzz by searching for Greg Bray: there are only 3 of us, and I am the funny (looking) one. :-P


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Natural User Interfaces on Mobile and Desktop Computers

Anyone who has an iPhone or Android handset can tell you that the standard method of using a keyboard and mouse for interacting with a computer is starting to be replaced with more natural and intuitive interactions. The iPhone has popularized the pinch-and-zoom and other finger based gestures that are commonly used on multi-touch devices, and Android has done a lot of work enabling voice based input to prevent having to enter text manually into the phone. Many smart phones use voice or touch for creating Natural User Interfaces on hand-held devices, but the transition to NUI in your home or office computer has been much, much slower.
On desktop and workstations I think that we won’t ever fully replace the keyboard and mouse, as they have proven to be highly configurable input devices with much better accuracy and precision and much lower cost than any alternatives. Over time though there are many cases where using speech or touch on a device larger than a phone makes sense. Microsoft started initially with their Surface device (aka the $10,000 coffee table), and has taken all that experience and added full multi-touch support to Windows 7 and Silverlight (when run on Windows 7).
It will take some time for the hardware to come down in price and be available in low-end consumer devices, but already you can find reasonably priced multi-touch desktop computers such as the HP TouchSmart line of all-in-one or laptop computers. These are designed to be used in a kitchen or as part of an interactive display in hotels and businesses where using a keyboard and mouse is not very effective. Microsoft hopes that lots of companies will start using these to attract customers or extend their brands, something that the Hard Rock Cafe has already done quite well.
Besides the hardware, another major factor holding back NUI is the ability for developers to create usable interfaces that compel users to let go of the keyboard and mouse and start using their fingers/voice instead. If you are a software developer, a UI designer, or just interested in seeing where human-computer interactions are heading I highly suggest watching this video from MIX 2010 about designing NUI on Windows. There also is a shorter follow up video on Coding4Fun where Brian Peek interviews NUI expert Joshua Blake.