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May
17
2018

Microsoft developing a new controller for the less able gamer: Meet the Xbox Adaptive Controller

As a blog that has always aimed to make technology understandable to the masses, we at Technically Motivated champion any attempt by a major corporation to create technology that caters for the less able user. So when we heard that Microsoft have unveiled an Xbox One controller designed with the differently-abled in mind, we naturally had to take a look.

A picture of the XBox Adaptive Controller

Image courtesy Microsoft
(click to enlarge)

Officially named the Xbox Adaptive Controller, Microsoft’s latest creation – which will actually support both XBox and Windows PCs – is billed as ‘the most flexible adaptive controller made by a major gaming company’. As Microsoft tells it, When a customised controller from non-profit veterans’ organisation Warfighter Engaged caught the eye of a Microsoft engineer back in 2014, Microsoft decided to create its own disability-friendly controller for the following year’s Hackathon, which is where this project began. Refinements followed a year later; but it was the release of the Copilot function – which allows two Xbox One controllers to be treated as a single controller – that led Microsoft to declare their new controller concept ready for launch.

In fact, Copilot is actually the key to how this new controller becomes adaptable for a wide range of disabilities. Designed to be used on a desktop surface, the Xbox Adaptive Controller features all number of ports to allow additional controllers, headsets, switches and other assistive devices to expand on its base capabilities, allowing a user to create a custom gaming solution whereby a user can combine many different controls into a workable solution for their own body. The ports are labelled such that the user doesn’t need to turn or pick up the device to see what goes where; and each controller can function as one or more physical buttons according to the user’s needs. The Adaptive Controller itself sports two giant buttons, mapped to the A and B of a standard Xbox controller and with enough spacing to allow a hand to rest in between; along with a D-Pad and other smaller control buttons to the left side.

Microsoft have explained the full story behind the controller on their Story Labs, which also gives further details about the upcoming product. The Xbox Adaptive Controller will launch later this year, and will retail for $100 in the US, which is likely to translate to around £100 in the UK after the inclusion of VAT.

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    Previous Articles


    May
    16
    2018

    Microsoft announce Surface Hub 2

    A Surface Hub 2 on a stand, courtesy Microsoft

    Two years ago, Microsoft raised eyebrows when it unveiled the Surface Hub, a digital whiteboard that could handle anything from video conferences, to a shared workspace for working on documents. Despite being plagued with numerous delays to launch and being ridiculously expensive (exceeding $11,000 for even the smaller model plus stand), Microsoft now claims that there are 5,000 companies using Surface Hubs, including half of Fortune 100 companies – and apparently, sales have been good enough for Microsoft to announce a second version is in the works.

    Details are currently scarce regarding the Surface Hub 2, which isn’t planned to retail until 2019; although “selected customers” will be able to test the device later this year. At it’s heart, however, the new Hub is still a gigantic touchscreen-enabled display, which will run Windows 10 and support the Surface Pen. It also has thinner bezels, making it look more like a modern flatscreen TV, albeit one with a wider-than-average 3:2 aspect ratio. Surprisingly, it appears the built-in webcam is also out, meaning you’ll now need to plug in your own to start video conferences – which strikes us an odd move.

    Microsoft appear to be targeting the new Surface Hub as having more potential uses, with the thinner form factor making it easier to create a wall of surface hubs for wide digital displays. To that end, the company has released a Youtube video introducing the Hub 2, which shows off a number of interesting use concepts:

    Microsoft announce Surface Hub 2" /> Microsoft announce Surface Hub 2" />

    The device also contains a fingerprint sensor, so each user can protect their documents and data behind their own accounts and login with just a touch.

    No information is currently available on pricing or technical specifications. We’ll have more news when we get it!

    Feb
    14
    2018

    Apple’s HomePod Speaker is Discolouring Wooden Surfaces

    An Apple Homepod (shown from above)

    While Apple Inc may be gaining plaudits for the audio quality of its new HomePod speakers, some users with wooden furniture are finding themselves less than thrilled with their new purchase, due to a surprising issue that has cropped up.

    Numerous reports have surfaced online from disgruntled Apple customers that the HomePod's silicone base is leaving pale rings when placed on wooden surfaces. Though tests by Bloomberg News failed to replicate the issue, nor does it seem to be replicable with other materials such as glass, several other websites have backed up the wood discolouration claims.

    Although Apple did not originally respond to requests for comment on the issue, it later informed Wirecutter that the company believes the issue is temporary and removing the speaker from the surface should restore the wood colour "within several days". In the event the marks remain, Apple suggested customers “try cleaning the surface with the manufacturer’s suggested oiling method.”

    Jan
    31
    2018

    Rumour: Is Microsoft Planning to purchase Electronic Arts?

    Following rumours earlier today that Microsoft is said to have an interest in acquiring several gaming-related businesses, Polygon has asserted that a “Reliable source close to Microsoft” believes that the Xbox One platform-holder is actually genuinely considering one such acquisition.

    Earlier today, Twitter was awash in rumours suggesting Microsoft, perhaps fuelled by the fact that the Xbox One has found itself lacking in console exclusives, was potentially considering making purchase offers to three companies: Valve, PUBG Corp (the people behind Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds), and Electronic Arts – commonly known as EA. Polygon’s sources believe that the EA rumour is indeed true – that Microsoft is definitely in serious thought about the move, with the other two suggestions also being “whispered”.

    Although Xbox One owners can anticipate exclusive releases this year in the form of Sea of Thieves (currently in a closed beta phase), Crackdown 3 and State of Decay 2, this small amount of confirmed titles pales in comparison to major rival Sony’s Playstation 4 line-up, which alongside a remake of Shadow of the Colossus, currently also lists exclusive such as Days Gone, Death Stranding, Detroit: Become Human, God of War, Spider-man and The Last of Us Part II. An acquisition of EA would bring many important franchises to the XBox One – although many of the bigger franchises, such as FIFA, Battlefield and the upcoming Anthem, are currently cross-console and Microsoft is likely to cause uproar were they to change the status quo.

    The lack of exclusive content for the XBox One, however, is very likely to be weighing on Microsoft’s mind. Sony’s Playstation 4 has so far dominated this generation of console sales, with over 73 million sold to date; Microsoft, meanwhile, is believed to have only shifted around half this number of XBox Ones although the company refuses to disclose actual sales figures.

    Further fuelling the rumours is Phil Spencer’s apparent appetite for an acquisition. Spencer, who was promoted to Executive Vice-President of Gaming late last year, is on record as having stated the following in an interview with Bloomberg:

    “Our ability to go create content has to be one of our strengths. We haven’t always invested at the same level. We’ve gone through ups and downs in the investment.”

    So what do you think? Do you think a potential acquisition offer is on the cards? Let us know in the comments!

    This article first appeared on Sanitarium.FM

    Jan
    30
    2018

    Mixer to get tip jar, direct game purchasing features

    Alongside claims that the service now attracts 10m users per month, Microsoft has announced a number of familiar-sounding features it plans to introduce to Mixer – its streaming service and rival to Twitch.

    In order to allow videogame streamers to monetise their channels, Microsoft has announced plans to add direct tipping, so that viewers can donate to their favourite streamers as they watch directly through Mixer, without the need of external services.

    For streamers who are playing games that are available through the Microsoft Store (for Windows 10 or XBox One), viewers will soon also be able to quickly buy a digital download of the game, or any DLC being played, with Microsoft planning to introduce new “Direct purchase” options.

    While Microsoft is no doubt playing catch-up with Twitch, the service is quickly gaining popularity – helped, no doubt, by Microsoft baking support for the platform into both Windows 10 and XBox One (where it can be found directly on the console’s Dashboard). Even though the upcoming new additions may strike as copycatting, making it easier for viewers to both start playing games they like and donate to their favourite streamers may prove to be an important move in growing that audience even further.

    This article first appeared on Sanitarium.FM.

    Dec
    02
    2017

    UK joins US in warning about #Kaspersky Antivirus and Russian software

    Britain’s main cyber security agency on Friday warned British government agencies to avoid using anti-virus software from Russian companies, the latest in a series of moves targeting Moscow-based security software maker Kaspersky Lab.

    The product box for Kaspersky Anti-Virus, as seen on Kaspersky's website.

    Box image courtesy Kaspersky’s web site.

    Who are Kaspersky?

    Kaspersky Labs is a multinational corporation that provides cybersecurity services worldwide. The company does a lot of work in identifying threats to computers, the internet and governments that could damage computers or lead to information getting out that shouldn't be made public; and helps to find solutions. As well as internet security, password management and many other security tools, one of the products Kaspersky is most well-known for developing and selling is its own Antivirus product, Kaspersky Anti-Virus (and also Kaspersky Internet Security), which is used by governments and individuals alike to help protect computers from being compromised or damaged by malicious attacks.

    Kaspersky Labs is headquartered in Moscow, Russia – a country known to have strict laws over control of data in and out of its borders. Russia lately has been in a lot of hot water with the United States over longstanding allegations that the country attempted to rig the 2016 Presidential Election and has too close ties to current president Donald Trump; and may be secretly attempting to influence America.

    What's going on?

    The United States have expressed concerns that Kaspersky have "close ties to intelligence agencies in Moscow and that its software could be used to enable Russian spying". In response, Kaspersky has offered to share source code showing how parts of their software works, in order to supposedly prove that Kaspersky does not hand any data over to Russia. This hasn't alleviated the US Government's concerns, however, and Kaspersky’s anti-virus software was banned from US government networks earlier this year.

    Now, the UK has decided to follow suit.

    In the United Kingdom, the government organisation responsible for computer security is the UK National Cyber Security Centre. On Friday, its director, Ciaran Martin, penned a letter to departmental permanent secretaries asking them to stop using Kaspersky software, saying that Russian-made software should "not be used in systems containing information that would harm national security if it was accessed by the Russian government."

    The wording of the letter makes clear that the UK agrees with the US that there are significant concerns that Kaspersky software could be leaking data to Russian governments that would be dangerous if it got out. Martin added that his agency is "in talks with Kaspersky Lab to develop a system for reviewing its products for use in Britain."

    ”We are in discussions with Kaspersky Lab … about whether we can develop a framework that we and others can independently verify,” Martin said in the letter, which was publicly released.

    What is Kaspersky's reaction?

    Kaspersky Labs allege their organisation has become a scapegoat in the midst of the rising tensions between America and Russia; and say that it looked forward to working with the NCSC on the issue in a statement released following the NCSC announcement.

    Should I be worried?

    At this point in time, there is no real proof that Kaspersky DOES send data that passes through its systems on to the Russian government; or what that data entails. However, the fact the company does dealings with government, corporate and military organisations worldwide, and is itself based in Moscow, makes the possibility impossible to ignore.

    The NCSC's statement only refers to matters of "national security", saying that Kaspersky software should only be avoided if the possibility of Russians getting ahold of it "poses a significant risk". For most at-home users, therefore, there is nothing to worry about. However, if you are a user of Kaspersky Antivirus, Internet Security or any of their other products; and you find the revelations discomforting or are concerned for your privacy, it may well be worth looking into alternative products just for your own peace of mind.

    Sep
    27
    2017

    Atari reveal first information about Ataribox’s specs

    The Atari Logo and registered trademark

    The Atari Logo

    Atari raised a number of eyebrows earlier this year when it suddenly announced it was getting back into the hardware game and working on a brand new console, called the Steambox. Teaser trailers, a preview of the console's planned appearance, and a statement from the company – emphasising that they were "taking things slowly" and revealing information gradually to ensure they get everything right – soon followed; but it's fair to say that we still don't know much about exactly WHAT the Ataribox is… that is, until today.

    In a newsletter to subscribers, Atari has finally let loose some information on exactly what the Ataribox is planned to be. The console will be based on PC hardware and offer "a full PC experience for the TV, bringing you streaming, applications, social, browsing, music, and more", as well as the games. The system will run a customised, lightweight Linux distribution "with a customized, easy-to-use user interface", not unlike a Steambox.

    Atari explained the decision to use Linux with the following statement:

    Most TV devices have closed systems and content stores. Linux lets us be more open; you can access & customise the OS, & you can access games you've bought from other content platforms (if compatible with the OS and HW).

    On the topic of games, Atari have confirmed that the console will come preloaded both with classic Atari titles, and with current-generation titles "from a range of studios". The company hopes to reveal information on the titles in the coming weeks.

    Atari's announcement also put heavy emphasis on the company's desire to have the Atari community "be part of this launch. We want you to have early access, grab special editions (& pricing) and to have you as active partners in the rollout of Ataribox." To this extent, the company has announced that the console will undergo an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign, planned to launch "very soon". Atari claim that the Ataribox is currently planned to retail for an expected price range of $249-$299, depending on "specific editions and memory configurations". Fans fawning over the previously-announced Atari 2600-homaging wood-based design will also be pleased to hear that this edition of the console will be made with "real wood".

    The Ataribox is planned to ship in late Spring 2018. We'll have more news as it gets revealed.

    Digiprove sealThis informative article has been Digiproved © 2017
    Acknowledgements: Atari Logo and some quoted text (C) Atari
    Some Rights Reserved
    Jun
    26
    2017

    Nintendo confirm SNES-flavoured sequel to Nintendo Classic Mini line

    Nintendo made waves last year when, near the holiday season, it released the NES Classic Mini – a miniaturised facsimile of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, with 30 classic games built-in. Though the console was only available for a few months – with most selling out – before being discontinued by Nintendo as a "limited edition product", even before its discontinuation, rumours were swirling about a potential sequel based on the NES's successor console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System – often shortened to "Super NES" or just "SNES".

    Well fans, the wait is over. Nintendo has confirmed the rumours, announcing that a SNES-flavoured sequel IS indeed in production and will be hitting European and American Nintendo fans very soon!

    Official banner showing off the European Super Nintendo Entertainment System, courtesy Nintendo UK.

    Like the NES Classic Mini, the Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Nintendo Entertainment System is a miniaturised replica of the Super NES console, seemingly with the localised styling for its region. For us Europeans, that means the sleek and svelte curved chassis embellished on its top-right corner with the four-colour Super NES emblem; Americans will receive the blocky, squarish design with purple buttons that was released in that region. It's not yet clear if the controllers – of which two will be included in every pack – will follow suit. Also included in the package will be a HDMI cable, allowing the classic games to be enjoyed in Full HD for the first time; and a USB cable for power. Annoyingly, the European package will NOT include an AC Adaptor in the box, meaning that if you don't have a powered USB port on your TV, you will need to pay extra for an adaptor to plug it into the mains.

    The less sleek, but still attractive US Edition of the SNES Classic Mini, alongside its controllers (courtesy Nintendo of America)

    But what about the games? While the SNES Classic Mini will feature a smaller software library to its predecessor – containing just 21 games compared to the NES Mini's 30, the titles on offer still give a diverse range of single- and multi-player games comprising many of the original console's favourite titles. All but one of these titles will be available straight off the bat, and all of the titles will be based on their original 60Hz American releases – even in the European edition. For example, Contra III: The Alien Wars, which was remade in Europe as Super Probotector: Alien Rebels, will go back to the original US version for both region's consoles. Star Fox (originally released as Starwing in Europe) and Final Fantasy III (which is actually Final Fantasy VI in the original Japanese numbering scheme, as the actual 3-5 were not released in US originally) also keep their US names.

    Games available from the start:

    • Contra III: The Alien Wars
    • Donkey Kong Country
    • EarthBound
    • Final Fantasy III
    • F-ZERO
    • Kirby Super Star
    • Kirby's Dream Course
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
    • Mega Man X
    • SECRET of MANA
    • Star Fox
    • Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
    • Super Castlevania IV
    • Super Ghouls'n Ghosts
    • Super Mario Kart
    • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
    • Super Mario World
    • Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
    • Super Metroid
    • Super Punch-Out!!

    While all the games listed above are available out of the box, Nintendo has also tucked in one final tasty treat. By playing one level of Star Fox, a twenty-first, exclusive game will be unlocked: Star Fox 2! This sequel to the original Star Fox, also originally intended for the SNES, was cancelled just prior to its original launch in all regions, and although it has since been leaked and made available illegally online as a ROM, the game has never been officially released by Nintendo – until now!

    The SNES Classic Edition will hit both Europe and America on September 29, 2017 with a suggested retail price of $79.99 in America; while Nintendo UK has it listed at £69.99 at time of writing. Other European prices are still to be confirmed.

    Apr
    11
    2017

    Privacy Conscious? Don’t Be Too Hasty To Download Windows 10 Creator’s Update

    A white Windows 10 Logo on a blue background

    The wait is nearly over for Windows users. On April 11th, the long-awaited "Creators Update" will launch for Windows 10, bringing with it such useful features as a new "night light" mode that reduces the amount of blue light emitted by your screen so that you an sleep better; a new Windows Defender Security Centre, where users can tweak their security options in one place; and a Game Mode for better performance while gaming among lots of other tweaks. People who do not want to wait for the update to be offered to them through Windows Update can get ahead of the game by downloading Microsoft's upgrade tool to apply the update right now – but a recent report suggests privacy-conscious users may want to hold off from jumping on the bandwagon early.

    According to an article by Tom's Hardware, which has been backed up by numerous less patient users, Microsoft's Windows 10 Update Assistant may not honour your Privacy Settings if you use it to upgrade to the Creators Update yourself. Instead, the Assistant tries to use default settings – whether or not you choose to upgrade or clean install the new version – meaning that if you changed your privacy settings when you installed Windows 10 and subsequently use the Assistant, you may need to keep a close eye on just what is being set, or you may find Windows suddenly gathering more data about you than you originally intended.

    Those default settings encourage you to share your location and provide full diagnostic data to Microsoft to fix issues and improve future iterations of Windows 10. The default options also encourage enabling Cortana and receiving targeted ads rather than generic ones. The good news here is that Microsoft is being much more transparent about the data it collects – and when applying the Creators Update, the privacy options offer up clearer descriptions of what they do and the effects enabling or disabling them will have.

    If you're not looking forward to going back through all those checkboxes, however, Microsoft state that when the upgrade is made available through Windows Update some time during April 11th, existing privacy settings WILL be honoured. We'll know for sure if this is the case soon enough – but as always, it's wise to look before you leap.

    This article first appeared on Sanitarium.FM under the title Windows 10 Creators Edition Available Now – But Keep An Eye On Your Privacy Settings.

    Digiprove sealThis informative article has been Digiproved © 2017
    Acknowledgements: Windows 10 Logo Courtesy Microsoft / more...
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    Apr
    05
    2017

    IndieGoGo Review: Sobro Connected Coffee Table

    The humble coffee table. One of the most recognised pieces of furniture there is. Everyone's living room has one, I'd wager; and whether it's used to put your coffee and biscuits as you watch TV; as a decorative item; or as something to put your paperwork and other junk on, it's fair to say that they're not the most inspiring parts of a room or the most useful. Now, a New York-based firm called StoreBound thinks it's time the coffee table got a 21st-Century upgrade.

    A promotional picture for Sobro, showing off the product's uses and features

    "Designed for a digital lifestyle… the furniture of the future." Thus starts the IndieGoGo pitch for Sobro, a smart coffee table designed to support your connected lifestyle, which at the time of writing has already thrashed its modest $50,000 funding goal, raising $838,055 at the time of writing with a month of the campaign still to run. "We've elevated the coffee table from a piece of wood that props up unopened large-format books, to an all-in-one center that connects your powered up life."

    So what IS Sobro?

    Sobro's list of features include a Refrigerator Drawer, Bluetooth speakers, LED Lighting, both USB ports and actual electrical sockets, and more.

    A list of the features offered by a Sobro coffee table.

    At its heart, Sobro is a coffee table with an integrated refrigerator drawer, designed to allow you to keep beverages chilled and snacks fresh while still allowing you to use it as an actual surface like a regular table. There are also two side drawers, for storing items that don't need to be chilled. The top surface of this chunky furniture item is tempered glass, which StoreBound claims is durable and easy to clean, making coasters a thing of the past. But Sobro is more than just a glass-covered work-top with a fridge – this is a true techy delight.

    To the left and right sides, the Sobro is equipped with dual Bluetooth-connected speakers, allowing you to pump music into the room from any Bluetooth-connected device with a rich bass and high-quality sound. This can be combined with configurable LED lighting on the underside of the Sobro in order to create a real sense of atmosphere, or bring life to a party. Speaking of configuration, the bottom-right side of the Sobro's top surface features touch-sensitive controls, through which one can control the Sobro's audio, lights and drawer temperature; and its Bluetooth connections right from the tabletop – no need for a smartphone and companion app.

    Speaking of which, do you find that your smartphone or tablet runs out of juice far too quickly? The Sobro has you covered. With two USB ports on its side, the Sobro can charge two USB-powered devices at the same time. The Sobro also contains two standard power outlets, so even traditional electronics can be plugged in – why not keep your laptop plugged in while you use it? The Sobro gets all its power from a single plug which can be plugged into a wall socket and concealed underneath, allowing you to split a single socket into four separate power solutions.

    Sobro's dimensions

    StoreBound claim the Sobro’s dimensions and stylish appearance will allow it to fit in wherever you might normally find a coffee table.

    Unfortunately, because the Sobro uses 110-Volt American-style outlets, the Sobro is currently only planned to ship to America and Canada. This restriction, however, doesn't seem to have hampered the product's reach, with the connected coffee table being backed by almost 1200 IndieGoGo users at the time of writing. Currently, a pledge of $649 or more will buy you one Sobro, but slots are already filling up and once 200 people have claimed this perk, the price will rise to $899 for everyone else. Even this, however is still a 40% saving on the product's expected retail price of $1499 – so if the sound of a connected coffee table appeals to you, and you live in the USA or Canada, don't miss your chance!

    Sobro on IndieGoGo

    This article first appeared on Sanitarium.FM

    Digiprove sealThis informative article has been Digiproved © 2017
    Acknowledgements: Pictures taken from Sobro's IndieGog more...
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