Microsoft reveals the Xbox One

Xbox OneAlmost 8 years ago, a new family member joined our household. Yes, we got a cat around that time, but I’m really thinking about the Xbox 360. 8 years is a long time in the tech world though and, although the 360 is no slouch, Microsoft have unveiled the next generation  in their Xbox story.

Enter the Xbox One. Microsoft say their new mission for the Xbox is to have a system that unifies games, television, music and movies. One console to rule them all, if you will. This won’t just be a gaming machine – Microsoft want to place themselves at the heart of the living room. That’s not to say we’ll all be huddled around a box, begging it for entertainment; apparently the technology will ‘step behind the curtain’, and allow you and your entertainment to take centre stage.

So, what can the Xbox One do? Well, quite a lot. It can show live TV for a start which, at the moment, requires you to change the input on your television. Voice control on the One was demonstrated, with a simple “Xbox, watch TV” bringing up a live TV feed. It wasn’t clear to me whether this was being streamed over the Internet, or whether you’ll need to plug a receiver into the back of the console (your Sky Box, for instance) but it was very impressive. Further voice commands allowed for instant switching to a game, movie, music, back to TV, Internet Explorer… it was all very snappy and seemed to live up to Microsoft’s vision of putting all your entertainment at your fingertips.

Snap Mode is an interesting addition to the Xbox One, where you can ‘snap’ an application to the side of the screen while doing something else. If, for example, you’re watching a movie and want to find out the name of a particular actor, you could snap Internet Explorer to the side of the screen and look up IMDB… all while the movie is still playing. At the minute, I look up that sort of thing on my phone, but the One will let you do it all on the one screen.

Skype, recently bought by Microsoft, is also integrated into the One, enabling you to have video chats with friends and families from your television. Great for getting in touch with the grandparents!

At this point my thought turned to the fact that it was pretty much a Smart TV… except that all the smart elements are held in the Xbox rather than the television set.

What’s under the skin?

If you’re anything like me you’ll be wondering what the technology under the Xbox One’s skin is, and we were given a rundown during the unveiling:

  • 8GB RAM – compared to 512 MB RAM in the 360
  • 5 billion transistors
  • A BluRay drive! (Yes, I’m excited about that one)
  • USB 3.0 connectivity
  • ‘Practically silent’ operation

The Operating system is a merger of three – bringing together the Xbox OS, Windows Kernel, and a sort of connector OS that allows instant program switching, multitasking and control.

The control systems have had an overhaul too, with a new Kinect controller. It is touted as being much faster at recognising voices than the current Kinect, and to have the ability to recognise different people. It is also more accurate at scanning the environment, and features a 1080p camera. It is capable of recognising more joints in a user’s body and, apparently, even able to read your heartbeat. I’m not sure if that last feature is cool or creepy!

The Xbox controller looks broadly similar to the current one (which is good, I’ve always found it comfortable) but actually has over 40 design updates.

Will there be any games?

Of course there will be games! Forza Motorsport 5, for example, will be exclusive to the One and will be available at launch. EA Sports are developing four games for the One and, Infinity Ward are producing a One version of Call of Duty: Ghosts that looks very, very impressive.

Let’s talk about that for a minute, actually, because I was fully prepared to be underwhelmed by the graphics of the One. I think the 360 does pretty well for graphics (yes, I know some PC gamers will want to slap me for saying that) but a side-by-side comparison of graphics from Modern Warfare 3 and Call of Duty: Ghosts just blew me away. The texture detail and the environment complexity made possible by the One’s power was genuinely amazing. It remains to be seen how games move beyond fancier graphics to make use of the One’s social and connected features, but pretty pictures are a good start :)

What didn’t we hear about?

There are a couple of things I was interested in learning about, but didn’t make an appearance in the unveiling:

  • Price – there was no indication of where this will be pitched.
  • Backwards compatibility – I remember when the 360 came out and only certain Xbox titles worked on it. It would have been nice to know whether my current games catalogue is about to become obsolete.
  • Always-on DRM – rumours abounded about whether the One would require an Internet connection to play games. If it does, it sort of precludes any possibility of taking it away on holiday with you, or of playing when your Internet connection goes down. It would have been nice to hear some sort of official position on this.

Having said that, the overall impression I got of the One is very positive. It looks like it’s going to be a clever piece of kit, and certainly something on my wish list. The next big unveiling will be at E3, where we can expect to hear more about the games coming to this new platform.

Thoughts?

Did you watch the Xbox Reveal event? What did you think of what you saw? Are you looking forward to the ‘next generation’ of consoles, or are you quite happy with the current one? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

5 Overhyped Disaster Predictions from Recent History

This is a guest post by Gary Nicholson, on behalf of Policy Expert.

Successful prediction of disasters can help us save money, time and in some cases, even lives. However, throughout recent history, and for as long as the media has been around, such predictions have left us wanting to run for the hills only to amount to nothing. Almost as if the powers that be are playing a little Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario. Here are some of the best examples of overhyped predictions.

Y2K bug

Image credit: roberthunt1987

The year 2000 bug, also known as the Millennium Bug, referred to a digital computer problem which was predicted to occur from 1st January 2000. The problem was suspected to come from software which used the last two digits of the year rather than all four, creating a series of problems which was believed to have the potential to cause catastrophic damage across the digital world.

As the world celebrated the new year, we also held our breath in preparation for what the year 2000 would bring. However, it soon became clear that the preparation had been for nothing. A few minor glitches were reported, however the digital world mainly continued business as usual.

The Harold Camping problem

Image credit: Lord Jim

There have been numerous doomsday scenarios over the years, all of which have so far proved to be completely incorrect. For example, Harold Camping famously predicted that on Saturday 21st May, 2011, the Rapture would come and the universe would be completely destroyed within six months. He made a similar prediction in 1994, and both have been proved to be spectacularly wrong.

Solar Storm 2012

Image credit: NASA

In March 2012 scientists fearer that a solar storm within the Earth’s magnetic field could cause substantial damage to satellites and power grids. However, later reports showed that this prediction had been wildly overhyped, as there was no significant solar activity when the storm occurred.

The Malthusian Famine

Image credit: Wikipedia

Thomas Malthus’ population theories are still used as a key basis of our understanding of the world’s population growth and our relationship with food and other resources. However, despite the highly regarded key principles that Malthus’ theories were build upon, one less successful prediction was the idea that by the 1970s mass starvation would hit the world due to the imbalanced relationship between food and people. Of course, what Malthus did not predict is the world’s ability to innovate and adapt to the ever increasing population, and this prediction proved to be well and truly incorrect.

The Energy Crisis – Crude Oil

Image credit: AZRainman

The idea that the energy crisis is over hyped is a fairly controversial topic, as it is easy to argue that this prediction is at least partly correct. However, many scientists predicted that by 2010, all crude oil would have run out, and there simply would be no more left by now. This would drastically alter our modern day lifestyles, and force us to revert back to a stripped back, more ecological way of living.

Oil is by no means an ‘easy’ resource to obtain – it’s very existence causes wide political and economic issues – however, domestically, we are still able to fulfil our highly energy dependent lifestyles, and prove this theory wrong.

What do you think of our selection of overhyped disaster predictions? Are there any you disagree with? Any you would add to the list? As ever, feel free to let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

All images in this post are used under Creative Commons license.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Announced

Black Ops II Claw walker / robotThis is a guest post by William Judd

This week, Activision announced the latest version of their popular Call of Duty entertainment property.

This spin, we’ve landed back on the sub-series of the year before last: Black Ops! The first game was set in the 60s in the thick of the Cold War. The plot dealt with Alex Mason, a CIA special ops soldier who was being forced to relieve past operations whilst being held prisoner. The time-hopping plot was fun but a bit nonsensical, just like the Call of Duty franchise itself.

The multiplayer proved as popular as ever, with the inclusion of an in-game currency that could be used to unlock weapons and attachments somewhat nonlinearly. The game also included a well-crafted Zombies mode, where up to four players tried to survive a zombie horde.

The most obvious difference in the sequel is that Black Ops 2 takes place in the near future, 2025 to be exact. That’s when the ‘new Civil War’ has kicked off, with terrorist groups taking advantage of the United States’ increasing reliance on drone-based fighters by subverting them. You play as David Mason, the son of the first game’s protagonist Alex. You’ll also be able to step into Alex’s shoes for a few flashback missions in the 1980s. Both are fighting against Raul Menendez, a mysterious antagonist tied to the Regan-era conflict in Nicaragua.

The game’s singleplayer campaign will be for the first time changed by well how you do. You’ll be able to play Strike Force missions in order to change the outcome of the game, similar to how Mass Effect’s 3 multiplayer affects that game’s finale.

These Strike Force missions are non-linear campaign missions performed by groups of operatives across the world; each time you get to a choke point in the storyline you’ll be able to choose a mission to perform. That group’s success will affect the game’s story. The missions themselves allow you to switch between different members of the team – both drones and humans – in order to accomplish your goals.

Multiplayer has also been overhauled. On consoles, it’ll be at 60 FPS, but as a PC player this isn’t exactly an exciting development. The graphics have also been upgraded to allow for much more realistic details – that’s more like it. In terms of gameplay, there’s not been much yet revealed.

Zombies will make a reappearance as the cooperative mode of choice – Spec Ops and Survival will not. There’ll be new modes and worlds here, but nothing concrete than the fact that the mode runs in the multiplayer engine rather than a jury-rigged singleplayer engine. Woo?

Overall, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The setting looks intensely interesting and the Strike Force missions sound great, but the traditional favourite multiplayer mode doesn’t really sound that different to its predecessors – something that’s sorely needed in what is now the 7th ‘modern’ (i.e. starting from Call of Duty 4) title. Modern Warfare 3 was the first game to sell less copies than its predecessors, and Activision can’t just keep riding the coattails of games past.

Robots definitely sounds like a good start – but will they be balanced in multiplayer?  Will we be able to get a tablet in the game as a special weapon? Will we be able to get a cool iPad case as an upgrade for it? Only time will tell – it’s taken Activision seven titles to stop the grenade launcher from being overpowered, so I don’t fancy the balance team in trying to make giant robots fair and fun — or the art team for having to draw terrible iPad covers!

 

Sky News comes to iPad

Sky News has launched an iPad app that allows users to control their own interactive news service, supported by a dedicated editorial team.  The app gives you a new way to get your news: live video, expert analysis and rich interactive graphics.

The main screen is a timeline, showing the major news stories and bulletins from the day. Tap on a bulletin and you get a video which can be enlarged for easier viewing. Where the Sky News app is really clever is when there’s additional information, as in the case of the Libya and Japan stories. If there is additional information is is arrayed around the central video, inviting you to tap on it and explore the background to the video you are watching.

What I often find when watching content on, say, the BBC News website, is that I want to open a link to read some of the background but forget that by doing so I will also navigate away from the video content. With Sky News for iPad, the video shrinks into the corner of the screen and continues to play, allowing you to explore without interrupting your viewing.

Should you wish, you can also watch the live feed of what’s happening on Sky News right now. Let’s say you choose to do that, and realise you’ve missed the beginning of an item… well, you can choose to rewind to before you started watching and see what you missed.

It all feels very slick, and despite not being a big watcher of news programmes (I prefer to read it), I’ve found myself firing up the app to find out what’s happening with certain events. I actually think the Sky News app is a good template for how content makers should be moving with iPad magazines – rather than just doing an electronic copy of a mag, why not fill it with interactive and video content?

Sky News for iPad is available for free from the App Store on iPad. The app will continue be free, but moves to a paid, monthly subscription in the near future for non-Sky customers, available through In-App Purchase. Sky customers will continue to be able to access the app’s content as part of their Sky subscription.

Further information can be found on the Sky News for iPad website at http://www.skynews.com/ipad.

Have you tried Sky News for iPad? If so, what did you think? Do you see this as a good direction for media providers to take? Could this be a good direction for iPad magazines as well? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

Supernatural series 5 starts tonight [UK - LIVING]

If you’ve been waiting for Supernatural season 5 to come along, or maybe even playing the Alternate Reality Game promoting the series, the wait is over. Supernatural returns to UK screens tonight, 9pm on LIVING with a double bill! Want to see what’s happening? Watch the trailer below (UK only, I’m afraid):

Remember, tonight, 9pm, LIVING – find out what happens there…

Apple unveils the iPad

Rumours have been rife on the Net about what Apple is working on, and now the speculation’s over. Apple unveiled their new tablet computer today, called (perhaps a bit cheesily) the iPad.

First impressions are that it’s like a larger, more powerful iPhone. It’s 9.56 inches tall, 7.47 inches wide and just half an inch deep.

iPad users will apparently be able to sync their existing iPhone applications with the device, although an enhanced SDK is being made available to allow programmers to take advantage of the iPad’s specific features. Presumably that means the larger screen. From a consumer point of view it’s nice to think that any apps you’ve already bought for the iPhone will be usable on the iPad. From a developer point of view it’s also great to think that iPhone apps will have a wider audience now, and that there are further opportunities to design for a multitouch device.

There will be two main variants of the iPad – the WiFi only version starting at $499 and the slightly more expensive WiFi and 3G version that starts at $629.

Let me come straight out and say that I think the iPhone is a revolutionary device and, if the iPad follows suit it will be similarly revolutionary. I’m not quite sure where it will fit in the whole Netbook/Laptop scheme of things… not quite a laptop, not quite a PDA. The iWork office suite was demonstrated at the launch announcement though, so there’s obviously the intention that it’ll be used for serious work. Whatever the target audience, you can be sure there will be plenty of people queuing up to buy one.

The WiFi iPad will be available in the US in 60 days time. For more information check out Apple’s iPad microsite.

There’s not much more on the iPad yet, but for more on the iPhone have a look at some of our most popular iPhone posts.

Games allowing gamers to commit war crimes

The debate about whether violence in video games has a real-world effect is an old one. I can certainly remember the consternation over the original Doom game, and I’d be willing to bet that wasn’t the first time someone had wondered whether games were having a detrimental effect on society.

Two Swiss human rights organisations, Trial and Pro Juventute, have compiled a detailed report on whether twenty popular games allow (or in some cases encourage) players to violate International Human Rights Legislation during the course of play. The tests included whether the player is required to commit a prohibited action, whether non-player characters (NPCs) do, or whether the player is permitted to act illegally without sanction. Prohibited actions include shooting injured soldiers, firing on a protected building (e.g. church or mosque), torture, and firing on non-combatants.

The outcome of the report is summarised on Trial’s introductory page:

The report thus recommends that game developers avoid creating scenarios that easily lead to violations of the rules regulating armed conflicts. More generally, the report underlines that, as certain games illustrate, there are means of incorporating rules that encourage the gamer to respect human rights and international humanitarian law. Such an approach should be further developed, in order to create players with a more accurate perspective of what is lawful and what is not in real armed conflict situations or law enforcement operations.

War is supposed to be fought according to certain rules, and any simulation of war should include those rules if it hopes to be accurate. But therein lies the problem for me, games aren’t necessarily supposed to be simulations, or educational tools, but entertainment. The main thrust of games development isn’t adherence to the law, but entertaining the player… and that’s a difficult tension to resolve.

Is there a moral obligation on games designers to ensure that human rights are upheld in their games? That’s a big debate, and there’s no doubt that some of the actions in games are wrong from a moral standpoint (attacking civillians in an airport, for instance) but then games aren’t meant to be moral teachers any more than movies or novels are.

In the end, this is a debate that’s going to rumble on for a long, long time. I can see the point of the report, and agree with some of it… I’m just not sure that games will ever reach the stage Trial and Pro Juventute want them to because, at a basic level, that’s not what games are for.

I do want to end on a light note, though… One of the reasons a character might commit human rights violations is so that we know how evil they are! It gives the story purpose if your mission is to “stop the bad man”. But are there better ways to distinguish the “goodies” from the “baddies”? Enjoy this clip from Mitchell and Webb about that very subject :)

What do you think of the report? Should games allow players to take morally dubious actions? Should they portray such actions in NPCs? Do you have another point to make? Let us know in the comments!

News in the “New Media”

Looking back through the Geek-Speak archives is a funny experience. The site isn’t that old (Feb 2008) but it’s amazing how much you forget until you read it again. I came across this post about how bloggers often get the jump on more established news outlets. It came about after my wife had heard something on the radio about radioactive packages in Edinburgh, but there was nothing on any of the news sites. There were plenty of blog results, though.

The thing is, we’ve moved on even since then. When a US Airways Airbus A320 landed in the Hudson river I didn’t hear about it on a blog… I heard about it on Twitter. Same deal with Michael Jackson’s death… Twitter was where the story broke for me. We thought BBC News 24 would bring us events from round the world as they happened, but now you can get immediate information from any point in the globe delivered straight to your desktop (or mobile) and, best of all, it’s usually from the point of view of someone who’s actually there or at least close to the action.

In the original article I asked if you have a blog, and what you use it for? Given that it was the very first article on Geek-Speak it, understandably, got no feedback whatsoever :) So I’m asking again… do you have a blog? If so, what do you use it for? News? General chatter? Research? Answer in the comments, and post a link too! That way we get to know why you’re blogging and you get to publicise your site. But let’s widen the question too: do you use social media? Facebook? Twitter? Something else? If so, why? We’d love to know…

Blogging the news

Blogger's Voice

Last night, Dawn came home and mentioned that the radio news had mentioned that some radioactive packages had been found in Edinburgh. “Wow!”, I thought… “that’s big news”. So I went to the trusty BBC news site to find out more. Nothing… So I tried the Forth One site, which was the station she had been listening to. Nothing… “OK, let’s try Google”. Plenty of information, but mostly from people’s blogs rather than any “trusted” news organisation.

But it got me thinking. This really is the age of amateur reporters, isn’t it? Nowadays, anyone can break a major news story and be read worldwide within minutes; even just a random bloke who happens to be walking past as an event happens.

The power of blogs is an amazing thing, and something that many organisations underestimate. If you want to get news out fast, or offer some insight into how an organisation works, a blog is a great way to do it. On the other hand, it’s also a great way to put your foot in your mouth if you publish something that is damaging to yourself or your organisation. I’m trying to push for my church, The Salvation Army, to develop blogging abilities on its site, mostly for publishing news, but it might also prove to be a useful tool for other reasons.

So I’m wondering – what do you use your blog for, if you have one? What do you think about the whole blogging thing? Is it a powerful tool, or is it just the plaything of a few sad geeks sitting in their bedrooms?