Microsoft will release an HD webcam to stores by September 9th

The Microsoft LifeCam Cinema HD webcam (kinda long, eh?) will be released on September 9th.

                                

It connects by USB 2.0, it captures in 1,280 X 720 HD resolution at 30 frames per second along with auto focus, 4X digital zoom, noise-canceling mic on the top, and something called ClearFrame that somehow allows smoother video. The body is made of aluminum, it uses a glass lens, and there’s even a Windows Live call button mounted behind the microphone.

It does have some heftier requirements like a dual-core processor with 1.6GHz minimum (3GHz and 2GB of memory recommended).

It’s also compatible with Windows 7/Vista/XP and Windows Live software, such as Messenger, Movie Maker, and Photo Gallery. I’m only hoping the Windows Live software will take the full HD capabilities of the webcam.

It’s great to finally see a real HD webcam out there. This webcam is $80 in the US so it’s pretty high end.

Do you use a webcam, and if you do, what kind? Does an HD webcam sound interesting or frivolous?

Source: Pocket-lint

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Best Buy to show off Zune HD preview at select stores across the country from August 22-23

Interested in catching a glimpse of the Zune HD before it’s released on September 15th? Well Microsoft has partnered with Best Buy in promoting the Zune HD, and select stores in major cities across the country will be demoing the Zune HD for a few hours.

Here’s are the major metropolitan areas that Best Buy is going to do (each metro area 2-4 stores):

CHICAGO AREA
SAN FRANCISCO AREA
LOS ANGELES AREA
NEW YORK CITY AREA
ATLANTA AREA
DC AREA
BOSTON AREA
MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL AREA
DALLAS AREA
HOUSTON AREA
PHILADELPHIA AREA
MIAMI/FORT LAUDERDALE
SEATTLE AREA

I’m planning on visiting the one in my Houston area at Willowbrook. It’s actually kinda close to where I live, and I go to the mall there often enough. I’m not sure, but I might invest in a Zune HD. Most likely a black 16GB version. I don’t have $200+ off me right now, but I might if I had to dip in my bank account…

Anyway, don’t take my word for it, but I hear they might actually let people attending the previews to actually hold and touch the Zunes to play around with them. After all, it does look like a 3 hour event for all stores. I even heard that they might give free Zune Points cards to the first 500 people. I could be wrong in this information, as details might change, but you never know.

I really wish there was more Windows Live connections, considering that the Zune software does USE the Windows Live ID sign-in. Having a Windows Live Messenger app would be neat, and maybe Windows Live Calendar and Hotmail (I want a regular e-mail client application, not just a Hotmail specific one) and other stuff would be nice.

Anybody planning on getting a Zune HD or going to the Best Buy previews?

Information found from Best Buy’s Zune HD page. To see the locations list, click here [PDF].

By the way, the Zune HD website got updated explaining the new Zune features a bit more, and you can preorder as well.

 

The Zune HD release seems really great. I hope Microsoft some great success.

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10 ‘redundant’ things that Microsoft could perhaps fix

There are generally two types of feelings when it comes to a company that makes many various products/services with overlapping similarities.

One feeling is the separatist feeling. This person prefers, and likes that the company does business in this style. This person likes this approach because he/she feels the benefits would mean broader price ranges available, more choices to picking exactly the right one, able to avoid ones with extraneous features he/she may not want to deal with, and maybe the feeling of superiority with having the best of the company’s product line among other advantages.

The other feeling is integrationist. This person would rather see more integration, and less smorgasbord of choices if possible. This person prefers this approach because he/she wants a more simpler set of choices regardless of the limited price range, better and smoother integration among the company’s other products/service, and not having to deal with or buy extra product/services because what was purchased wasn’t enough.

I’m more of the former, and believe that by integrating and merging similar products, Microsoft can get rid of its redundant offerings and focus on the functionality and experience of one or few, instead of many applications to make it easier to deal with.

Here’s a list of examples of redundancies I’ve noticed in Microsoft’s offerings and what I think Microsoft should do about it:

1. Microsoft Office v. Microsoft Works – Between these two, I think Microsoft Works needs to die. It conflicts not just with Microsoft Office, but also Windows Live Calendar, Windows Live People/Contacts, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Encarta Dictionary, and maybe other Microsoft offerings. The latest, Works 9, offers at least fairly good basic applications, but with free Office Web Applications to come out soon, not to mention discounts you can find on copies of Office in the right places, I really don’t think Microsoft should bother with Works anymore, and focus on Office entirely. I really don’t like the strange user interface that Works goes with anyhow. [Good overview video of Works 9]

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2. Windows Media Player v. Zune software clientWindows Media Player and Zune software client both offer VERY similar functionality. However, one software is clearly designated for the Zune device. In my opinion, there really needs to be some type of merging done. I think it would be best if Microsoft discontinued WMP. Now I really do like WMP, and I know how important it’s been in Windows, but the times have changed. Considering Windows 7, I really think that WMP’s functionality as a program to play/manage media and sync with many devices can now be replaced by Windows Explorer and Device Stage. Of course, Windows Explorer could use a fix for better media playing/managing functionality and more devices needs to support Device Stage (if not, just plug in the external hard drive anyway), but it can work. Zune software can still be an independent media playing/management software for the Zune, while those with other portable media players could just do with Windows Explorer and Device Stage. Best of both worlds. I still wish and hope that Microsoft will allow Zune users the option of plugging it in and using Windows Explorer if desired.

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3. Zune Marketplace v. Xbox Live Marketplace v. other Microsoft marketplaces.. – Even though there’s an Xbox update for Zune video content to be available on Xbox, I want to take it a step further and completely merge Xbox Live Marketplace, Zune Marketplace, Windows Mobile Marketplace, Windows Live Gallery, Office Clip Art & Templates, Internet Explorer Gallery and even the former Windows Marketplace all into one download store. I’m guessing it could be called “Microsoft Marketplace” or “Microsoft Download Store” (MDS) or simply “The MarketPlace”. Here’s how I think it can work. You can buy and view EVERYTHING available in The MarketPlace, or you can enable which items show up by choosing the desired platforms you’re interested in viewing in the Settings menu. All purchases are tied to a Windows Live ID and you can use this on every platform when buying or accessing purchases. You can purchase ANY content on Marketplace no matter what platform you are on, but you can only download/stream it if content supports that platform you are accessing it from.

For instance, say if you are accessing The MarketPlace from a Zune HD, you could buy a Xbox theme, a Clip Art file, a Windows software program, and a song. You can buy all that stuff on the Zune HD, but you could only download the song and maybe the Clip Art file, because those are the only purchases that can actually work your Zune HD. Later, you could login into The MarketPlace from your Xbox and PC with your Windows Live ID, and then download the theme onto Xbox, and the program onto Windows. I think a mega-combined Microsoft download store could be really neat as it allows users to view and perhaps buy ANYTHING available in MarketPlace on any Microsoft platform, and tie it to a secure Windows Live ID so if needed, you could always download it later on the correct platform and keep track of what you’ve purchased.

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4. Windows Live Sync v. Windows Live SkyDrive v. Live Mesh – This one isn’t so hard to break up. Live Mesh basically does everything that Windows Live Sync does, so combining Live Mesh and Windows Live Sync will be a no brainer. I’d prefer if they kept the name Windows Live Sync, because ‘Sync’ gives users a better idea of what it is, rather than ‘Mesh’. I think SkyDrive can either stand independent or also be integrated into Sync+Mesh as a full fledged cloud storage option. If SkyDrive does get folded into Sync+Mesh, I hope it’s still easily accessible without having to bother with synchronization options that users may not want to bother with.

5. Internet Explorer v. MSN Explorer – This one shouldn’t be that difficult either. MSN Explorer isn’t that great and hardly on par with even IE6. I have used it though, and it felt kinda neat with the little graphic gimmicks, but it got boring fast. MSN doesn’t even really support it anymore, so just cut the ax on MSN Explorer once and for all. Internet Explorer 8 has been a very great browser, and in my opinion, on par with the other latest browsers.

V.

6. Windows Live Personalized Experience v. Windows Live Home v. MyMSN – All of Microsoft’s start pages, whether it’s MyMSN or My.Live.Com or Windows Live Home, are rather cruddy. MyMSN and My.Live.Com definitely need to get axed. MyMSN, even the new version, is a weak attempt in pushing more dumb MSN content onto a page, with no 3rd party module support, low customizability, and just plain BORING. Don’t even bother fixing it up! My.Live.Com was a nice modest attempt at a start page, but considering there’s been no update for over 2 years, and no response on it, it’s just best to also knock this one down too. Netvibes and MyYahoo! are much better start pages, and Microsoft could make some more official applications for those. Anyhow, that leaves simply just Windows Live Home, though I hardly call it the same category, though there’s been a little debate on what “Microsoft want” your homepage to be. I think of Windows Live Home as a simple dashboard to all things going on in your Windows Live network.

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7. SkyDrive photo storage v. Windows Live Photos – Are they the same or not? Well apparently, based on what I remember, anything uploaded onto Windows Live Photos gets stored in SkyDrive. So basically, Windows Live Photos is an alternative front end to your SkyDrive photo storage. If you ask me, that’s just plain silly. Why highlight only photos, and not other things like videos, documents, etc.? Anyway, I suggest Microsoft scraps away the Windows Live Photos front end, highlight SkyDrive as a place to store/share files, and fix the SkyDrive front end so that it would be more ideal for viewing users’ photos, videos, music and more without having to download the files if not desired.

8. MSN’s content articles v. MSNBC news articles – This is more of a sticky issue than anything. MSN uses MSNBC for international/major news coverage. At the same time, both offer content articles from different sites. You see, they both have articles on certain categories, like technology, health, travel, but on separate sites. For instance, MSN Health and MSNBC’s health section both have news regarding medical stuff. Sometimes, I’ve seen a MSNBC article ON an MSN content page. Talk about nuts. My solution: Merge MSN’s unique content onto MSNBC’s corresponding pages, or just knock out most MSN content sites altogether. MSN does have some nice unique content and tools, but it’s not much that you couldn’t find on another similar, more in depth site. MSN Health can’t really compete much against WebMD, especially when you consider most articles are from outside sources. So maybe it would be better if MSN just quits while it’s ahead, and kill MOST of it’s content sites, and just stick to Entertainment and special features stuff. It’s not like the MSN team is really trying much.

9. Multiple Windows versions – I don’t have a problem with choice, but I do when the choices are too similar and get confusing. Windows 7 improves the choices line-up a bit better, but I still think there could be more simplification without sacrifice. I’d like to say that there should just be two versions: Home and Ultimate. Home will work great for the majority of computer users, and is the same as Home Premium. Home would replace Starter and Home Basic. Ultimate would be targeted to business users or users that want it all. Ultimate would replace Professional and Enterprise. So what about the markets intended for the other versions? Well here’s why I would skip the following ones:

  • Starter – Too slimmed down, and I don’t think the Windows user experience should be stripped like that. It’s can’t run Aero, no 64 bit support doesn’t make a quality user experience that I think Windows should always be.
  • Home Basic – The version for ‘emerging markets’. The same reason as starter, I still think the Windows user experience is important, and I don’t want it to be reduced so people in a 3rd world country can afford something substandard. I feel for poor people, and I’d rather they go to Linux or Windows CE or something, then Microsoft dropping things out just to meet their needs.
  • Professional – This is geared towards smaller businesses. I think businesses should just go directly with Ultimate anyhow, because they might utilize its features eventually and they should have access to the best built-in tools. Anyway, more is usually better.
  • Enterprise – This is a biggie. It’s only available to large companies to be deployed across many of its computers, and would have several unique SA benefits and whatnot. Instead, I think Microsoft should still apply the SA-benefits over to versions of Ultimate when an enterprise wants the Ultimate version, instead of having to make a whole separate ‘version’

So anyway, I think with a little adjustments in some cases, Windows Home and Ultimate should be plenty for everyone.

10. Games for Windows (Live) v. MSN Games v. Xbox Live Arcade v. Windows Live Messenger games – This is a tricky bunch. Games For Windows is Microsoft’s ‘platform’ for pushing PC gaming to be more popular, MSN Games is a site where you can play/download pretty much casual/arcade games and earn badges online, Xbox Live Arcade is Microsoft’s digital store for selling video games on the Xbox, and Windows Live Messenger games is games that can be played on Windows Live Messenger. Though these are all on different platforms, there could be a way to unite them because they all deal with games. I would suggest that Microsoft should put all the games available on its 4 platforms into the ‘Games’ section on MarketPlace (refer to idea #3).

I’m wishing that the games available on MarketPlace can work across most if not all platforms. Like I could be playing Uno on Messenger, while my buddy is playing it in his web browser, another buddy on Xbox, and maybe another one on Zune. At the same time, it would be neat if there were a unified Achievements board across all 4 platforms, so it’s not just an Xbox or MSN only thing. Anyway, a way to combine all these ‘gaming’ platforms together would be a wonderful idea in my opinion.

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I’m thinking that a good implementation of merging and integrating will create a seamless, dynamic way of unifying Microsoft’s platforms and make the end user’s experience much more simple and fun.

Any questions, doubts, compliments, or something you’d like to say? Just comment!

Note: Just so you know, these are more wishes in an ideal world than anything. Probably most things on this list won’t be implemented for obvious reasons, because we don’t live in an ideal world. #9 won’t work because of prices and user types, #2 because many APIs use WMP, etc.

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Current thoughts about the upcoming Zune HD

You’ve probably heard of the Zune HD by now, if you’ve been keeping up with gadget new or Zune news.

I’m pretty interested in the Zune HD, even I’m probably not going to purchase it right off the bat. I’ve used the two previous generation Zunes, and I actually liked them. The first generation wasn’t exactly the most smoothest top-notch experience, but it was a pretty nice player, albeit it’s rather clunky form. I got the black one, and I loved the neat blue double shot effect, and the screen felt nice and wide, compared to other PMPs like iPods at the time. The software however was not so great, and I did have trouble at first syncing the Zune but it was ok. The 2nd generation was my brother’s and it was much improved and even smoother. The software was much better, and in some ways better than Windows Media Player. It was thin and sleek, and I’m surprised that there wasn’t a bigger jump in sales of the new Zunes (typical iPod users).

So the Zune HD, based on the internet buzz, will definitely take off if well marketed. It’s use of an OLED screen, Tegra chip (pretty good for games and content), HD Radio, HDMI, accelerometer, 720p HD output, and probably more pretty much trumps the current iPod Touch in my opinion.

So here’s a list of things I hope to see in the Zune HD as well as its accessories:

  1. More storage capacities beyond 16 and 32GB – How about 64 or 120GB? I’ve heard many people liking the Zune HD, but will probably not buy one because of the storage limitations. Personally, I never use that much storage (not even 4GB) and if I needed to, I would just swap what stuff was on my Zune with other stuff in my library. The so-called “conveniency” of having your whole media library on your device is just dumb in my opinion, because you couldn’t possibly use it all at once, and it’s not that difficult to connect your Zune to the library and view something else. But bigger capacity is always welcomed. There’s a rumor that Microsoft will at least have 64GB version later this year or sometime.
  2. Application Store – I want an official Zune application store. From what I know, there won’t be one initially, but there will be one through an upgrade later. Here’s what I think the application store should be like on the Zune: many good applications available (like official ones from major companies), little regulation as needed to allow applications into the Marketplace, centralized payment system, way to share applications with a friend for a small free trial period, and a nice simple layout to find/view applications on the Marketplace. I personally think that will need to be some regulation as to the submission of applications. I wouldn’t want to download malware onto my Zune, or have a ‘naughty’ application in the hands of a kid. Stuff like that. But I hope not to see blocking of apps like Pandora or Google, for competitive reasons and such. I also would like to see apps to be shared, like the way you can share music & pictures through WiFi. You think this app would be good for your friend, so you send it to them to try out for at least a day. Neat idea.
  3. Built-in Camera – This would definitely one-up the iPod Touch if it was in the Zune HD first. It should be preferably at least 3.0 MP, flash available, and good controls on the screen, and a camera button on the side.
  4. Hardware add-on for playing games – I like the idea of Xbox Live content to be available on the Zune, and for more deeper games, there could be a little controller add-on to the bottom of the device with simple Xbox controls for users who want to play Xbox games. Hopefully there will be many games ported to the Zune to make this work.
  5. Excellent mobile browser – Many people have complained of IE Mobile’s shortcomings (though the 6.5 version has been good), and hopefully the one in the Zune HD is at least equal if not better than the ease of use as the one on the iPod Touch. According to a CNET reviewer who had a good glimpse, it’s pretty good.
  6. Flash & Silverlight support – It’s not included, but it wouldn’t hurt through an update. Unfortunately, a lot of websites use Flash, like YouTube and Pandora Radio, so a little Flash support would help. Silverlight would be great, especially if more websites took advantage of it, in comparison to Flash. Some people have cited that Flash can bog down a mobile device, but others have argued that the Tegra chip is well capable of running Flash content.
  7. Bluetooth Support – I’d love to plug in some Bluetooth headphones with wonderful A2DP support. It’s like a major feature for the best audio PMPs. Bluetooth could also be better for wireless syncing, rather than WiFi.
  8. Non-touch Zune player – I know this sounds counter-productive to current trends, but there’s still a market for a nice decent non-touch PMP. There are many fans that love the current 2nd generation Zune PMP right now, and they like the fact that’s it doesn’t rely on touch technology. I’m guessing that they don’t like using their fingers/stylus to interact with their PMP, don’t want to pay for something expensive when it could be cheaper, and like tactile controls. I really felt that the 2nd generation Zune did a great job of combining a non-touch screen player with a touch-like interface when you consider the swiping you can do to get around the interface. Anyway, a nice solid non-touch PMP would still be nice with a hardware refresh, like the way Apple still sells iPod Classics.
  9. Nike+ Support? – I’m not sure if Nike+ for iPod software is Apple made or Nike made, but I think it’s probably most Nike-made. Anyway, I think it would be neat if there could be something like that for the Zune. If not a Nike deal, maybe one with Adidas or Puma. Some people think Nike+ is overrated, but I think it’s neat, and I’d want Zune support too.

As for the Zune software & Marketplace & Social:

  1. Drop the love/hate rating system – Many people have found it very ineffective. If you added music to your library, chances are, you probably like it. They should go back with the 5-star rating system. The 5-star rating system lets users have a better degree of control on how much they like a certain thing. I may like both Song A and Song B from my favorite artist, but I’d like to indicate that I like Song A more, by giving it a higher rating like 5 stars, instead of labeling both as ‘I like’. It just makes sense!
  2. Less memory intensive – The Zune software client has been really memory intensive on my system, every time I launch it. I can even hear my hard drive buzzing. I would really appreciate an update, that would make it less memory intensive.
  3. More neat “Now Playing” screen splashes – I love this feature of the Zune. It’s really nice graphical goodness. When you play a song on the Zune software client, if it’s a very popular artist, a neat background splash launches, with big tinted photos, and big block words expressing the artist rolling through. I would really MORE artists could get the special Now Playing splashes. Here’s an example of one:
  4. Better messaging options on Zune Social – It would be nice if we had the option of IMing other members on Zune Social, if the person you are corresponding to allows it. I’m not asking to launch up the Messenger client, but built-in IM functionality, like the way Facebook does their IM bar. Anyway, they could at least upgrade the character limit when sending messages from 230 characters to 500.
  5. Marketplace had more video & games content – There could still be more music content of course, but I would love to see more music videos, movies, TV shows, and games coming out. Games support seemed rather rusty, since there were only two official games available for the Zune (with many more from XNA studios), so there should be some more. There’s already a good amount of TV shows, but there could be more, and we definitely could use movies!
  6. Zune Pass for video content – I’d say the ability to watch/stream as many movies or TV shows or music videos as you want, for a monthly price of probably $19.99 or cheaper. You’d also be able to keep one free movie or TV episode a month. Any monthly fee that is affordable for the amount of content available. I really think nice and convenient subscription services, will help lower down piracy if studios made it more affordable and worthwhile in paying.
  7. Firmware update for previous generation Zunes – I’m not sure if the firmware running on the Zune HD can work with non-touch controls in the previous Zunes, but it’d be nice if the latest Zune HD firmware was available to previous generation Zunes, or at least some type of a firmware update. Even if the Zune HD’s firmware won’t work on the current Zunes out there, I’d like to see an update for Unicode support, EQ, and any other simple software goodies available on the Zune HD.
  8. More codec/format support – PNG images would be nice, FLAC, and others.

Overall, I really hope to see Zune become a more solid product line, and I really hope it encourages 3rd party support to really come along in making the next Zune more ubiquitous, and really worthwhile in investing. Anything I should add?

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