Xbox One is a Failure, History of a Generation

It is 2018 and the Xbox One came out in 2013. Let’s reminisce​.

Back in the days of Xbox 360, looking forward to the next generations that seemed impossible for Microsoft to do wrong. The Xbox 360 had a massive lead. If you were an online gamer. Shooter, racer, whatever… You owned an Xbox 360. You may have even owned multiple Xbox 360s over the years. I lost count of how many I went through. The Xbox 360 had issues, sure, but that didn’t stop Microsoft from racking up a huge sales in USA. Nearly double the competiting PS3.

Quick History Lesson

The early Xbox 360s had a tendency to overheat and die. It had a failure rate of over 50%. Compared to PS3’s failure rate of around 10%. The bad press forced Microsoft to extend everyone’s warranties out to 3 years. The overheat flaw was traced to the formula of the solder used to adhere the chips to the board. Under normal operating temperatures, the solder would melt and allow the chip to come out of position. Entrepreneurs, like myself, made a lot of money repairing broken Xbox 360s. The repair was performed with some bolt hardware, plastic washers, and a good heat gun. Microsoft eventually released updated hardware and their own fix to the hardware with the Xbox 360 Slim.
Second, the Xbox 360’s game copy protection could be broken simply by loading a modified custom firmware to the dvd drive. Creating a modded Xbox 360 required only a serial probe and a PC with a spare SATA port. Owners of modded Xbox 360s were able to play online, but were warned by the community not to. Microsoft eventually cracked down on the seemly rampant abuse, but only in what became known as ban waves that were months apart. Since Microsoft banned hardware and not accounts, a person could sell a banned modded Xbox 360 for near retail cost, buy a new Xbox 360 and swap the hard drive. Play for 6 months to a year, then repeat. Only losing pocket change in the transfer.
The Xbox 360 was still somehow a success. It sold 25 million in USA and 84 million worldwide over the 11 years it was available. Over a similar period, the PS3 sold 13 million in USA and 80 million worldwide. The PS3 had its own problems, but nothing that hit the local or national newscasts like the problems plaguing the Xbox 360.
When the Xbox One was announced, it was thought that Microsoft could do no wrong. Refresh their hardware, 10x the graphics and call it done. Not so fast.

Xbox One Hurdles

Google-able Name

My kneejerk reaction to the announcement of the name for the new Xbox was “that’s a dumb name”. I had owned the original xbox and spent many years as admin on xbox support forums. The lingo for the original xbox didn’t used to be the ‘original xbox’. There was the xbox360 and naturally the xbox1. While writing this, I did some research and quickly found that the dumbness continues. I can’t google xbox 1 without getting the results for both Xbox One and Xbox Original.

System Specs

A lot of talk is given to the raw TFLOP or GFLOP rating of a system. That is, how many Floating Point Operations can be performed per second. To me, the number of FLOPS isn’t all that important unless you are talking 10x difference. After all, the PS3 had 230 GFLOPS vs the Xbox 360’s mear 77 GFLOPS. More than double and the graphics were comparable. Instead, I look to the System or Memory Bandwith as the real performance indicator of a generation. The Bandwidth is simply amount of data that can be transfered in and out of the cpu, memory, and gpu.
Measuring in system bandwidth, the Xbox 360 had a Front Side Bus capable of about 22 GB/s. Compared to the Original Xbox, the Xbox 360 was a 20x improvement. That corrosponded with a huge leap in gaming performance. For the Xbox One, the FSB is gone and replaced by a integrated memory controller. System bandwidth is then rated by the memory bandwidth. The Xbox One was only a 3x improvement over the previous generation, while the PS4 manages 8x.

Xbox1 Xbox 360 Xbox One Xbox One X
1 GB/s 22 GB/s 68 GB/s 326 GB/s
PS2 PS3 PS4 PS4 Pro
1 GB/s 23GB/s 176GB/s 218 GB/s

Microsoft is correcting this in the Xbox One X, but I don’t expect much. In specs, the Xbox One X is the Xbox 360’s true successor. However, the Xbox One was on the market for too long. People saw what it could do and now dismiss anything with the Xbox One name as same old, same old.

Set-top Box

Microsoft executives have had this weird dream for the last few decades. To own the living room. Have their box be the only box you would ever need under your tv. It seems silly these days, with smart TVs and streaming sticks. But back when the Xbox One was released, Microsoft still thought that they had a chance.

Connect the Xbox One to your CableTV box and get these fabulous features:

  • Web enabled TV Guide
  • Voice controlled channel changer
  • Antenna Tuner
  • Gesture controlled channel changer

When the Xbox One was announced, they focused so much on the smart tv features that folks wondered if the Xbox One was a gaming machine at all. You can watch the full announcement on youtube, I am not kidding.

Around the 8 min mark, I’ll summarize. “You think gaming is cool? Let’s not talk about gaming. Let’s talk about watching TV.” The first actual mention of a video game occurs around the 32 min mark.

Fast forward to today, and the TV features are never talked about. The Antenna Tuner is no longer supported. What happened? The features are no longer under active development. They have not received any updates in years, leaving them stranded with 5 year old bugs. The best improvement over the years was replacing the previous voice controls with Cortana and Alexa voice controls.

Under the old voice controls… How many times does it take to say “xbox on” before the system responds? I don’t know. I give up after 3, and just press the button. Cortana is much better. At most two attempts to make the xbox do what I want.

But when the Xbox One was released, it didn’t have Cortana. It had the lame Kinect voice controls.

Kinect

Let’s talk about Kinect. I love kinect. What a great concept! I am a maker at heart. Microsoft made sure to release a PC adapter cable for kinect. It is really amazing what folks have accomplished with an affordable 3d camera. There are so many projects by companies and students alike that use the kinect as a 3d camera.

The usb adapter was discontinued in Jan 2018. The kinect is a usb device with a proprietary connector. This is not a big deal for tinkerers, there are guides available on how to splice your own usb cable and power supply for the kinect. Microsoft has given up on the concept. Motion gaming never went beyond a gimmick. Which is sad.

The kinect sensor was capable of tracking the motion of a sitting player. So that if you move your head to the side, your player could peak around corners. What a killer feature for a console game! The tech demos I saw with the feature blew my mind. No 3D TV needed, the head tracking allowed you to peak beyond the 2D image on your screen! Microsoft purposefully blocked this type kinect control scheme. They would only approve games with gameplay for a standing player without a controller. Sigh.

Copyright Protection

Everyone made fun of the Xbox One’s copyright protection scheme. Just like a PC, an xbox one disc would come with a single use code. That code would authorize your account to play the game. The primary goal was to eliminate pirating of games. The side effect would be the elimination of used game sales and letting friends / family borrowing your game.

After the initial announcement, Microsoft made a statement that they would make a process to share a game with a friend or family. This sharing process was famously made fun of by Sony

Long story short, Microsoft caved under pressure and returned to the old DRM.

Cost and Sales

The Xbox 360 was released in November 2005 and by 2006 had become a darling. When the PS3 came out in November 2006, it was competing against the Xbox 360 that had been on the market for a whole year. The PS3 was the weaker choice for price, availability, and game catalog. The Xbox 360 was available at every store. The PS3 wasn’t widely available until summer 2007.

For the 2007 season, the Xbox 360 without hard drive was reduced in price to $270. While the Sony elected to instead discontinue the 20GB PS3 model and reduce the price of the 60GB model to $500. Not to be out hard drived, Microsoft released a 120GB model for $450.

2005 HDD Cost
XBox 360 0 GB $300
XBox 360 20 GB $400
2006 HDD Cost
PS3 20 GB $500
PS3 60 GB $600
2007 HDD Cost
XBox 360 0 GB $270
XBox 360 20 GB $350
XBox 360 120 GB $450
PS3 60 GB $500
PS3 80 GB $600

When the Xbox One was released, history was ignored. This time, both the Xbox One and PS4 were released in Novemeber 2013 within 1 week of each other! However, with both consoles having weak launch catalogs and low availability, the console wars didn’t heat up until the following year. Even then was dissapointing. The PS4 was sold for $100 less. Just as Sony had claimed that their revolutionary Bluray drive was worth the $100 premium, Microsoft claimed their included kinect sensor was worth a $100 premium. Things played out almost exactly as the previous generation, with the roles now reversed.

2013 HDD Cost
PS4 500GB $400
Xbox One w/Kinect 500GB $500
2014 HDD Cost
PS4 500GB $350
Xbox One 500GB $350
Xbox One w/Kinect 500GB $450

Sales were way below expectations on the Xbox One. Within the first year, Microsoft made a new bundle that dropped the kinect and matched the PS4’s price. However, the Xbox One never really recovered. The mindset was locked in. Here are the lifetime sales from 2013 – 2018.

The Future

Backwards Compatibility

Late into it’s lifespan, the Xbox One has been making huge strides. The added backwards compatibility is huge. Not only being able to play Xbox 360 and Xbox titles on the Xbox One, but also unlocking digital purchases from the Xbox 360. All playable on modern hardware and upscaled.

Xbox Two

Can Microsoft learn from their misteps with the Xbox One? The Xbox One X is a good preview of the Xbox Two. However, I expect the high pricing and DRM to make another attempt. Hopefully some VR features to compete with the PC market.

Fake Window – Smart Room Light

This is an overview of my Smart LED Window, based on an instructable by dannyk6. I took mine a step further by adding Alexa voice control and IFTTT day/night schedule. The wife picked the valance fabric.

After remodeling my basement, I was left with the main area that had no natural light source. I didn’t like the idea of adding more nightlights, I could do better. I really wanted a flat panel tv linked to an outdoor camera, so you could see the front porch in real time. I could have the tv mounted vertically and dressed up to look like an actual window. I tried to design this Camera Window a few times on paper, but never came up with anything I liked. The glow from a TV won’t look like natural light in a room.

This Smart LED Fake Window is a good compromise. The 32 feet of LED Strip provides plenty of light. The LED color is set to look like natural sunlight. I have an ITFFF recipe linking the Weather Channel’s Sunset and Sunrise triggers to the LED’s color and brightness. Automated daylight to nightlight cycle. The Alexa commands and phone app allow me to override the schedule with any color and brightness I want.

Supplies:

I went with Select lumber from Menards, as I find it is a little nicer to work with on small projects like this. The trim I picked was a 1/2 inch wider than the 1×3 boards, so I would have a nice inside corner later to staple the fabric to.

Assemble Frame
Figure out how large you want your window. I went with 30×44 inches. Cut the 1×3 boards to make the box frame. Then cut the trim pieces to fit over top. Hammer nails into the back of the 1×3 frame into the trim. You may want to lay down some cardboard to keep the trim from getting marred up. When you have a solid frame, add a coat or two of stain and let dry.
Optional: use a miter saw to angle cut the trim pieces.
Optional: use some extra 1×3 board to add a center rail.

Assemble Reflector
Lay the tag board along the back, and tape together into one sheet. Match the dimensions of the window so you can tape it to the back later. Lay out the sheets of aluminum foil and use the double sided tape. Cover one side of the tag board with aluminum foil, shiny side facing out.

Mount LEDs
Place the frame over the reflector. Mark the inside frame edges on the reflector, so you can see where the lights need to be placed. Measure the space and determine how close the LEDs can be placed before you run out. I went with a spacing of 2.75 inches, making 4 LED strips above and 5 LED strips below my frame’s center rail. Leave enough cable length to plug in the LED control module from outside the window. Peel the LEDs and stick onto the aluminum foil, following a snaking pattern along your marked spacing. Power up the LEDs to make sure everything is working right.

Note: Using a waterproof LED strip is important. As you mount the LEDs, all the twists and folds will inevitability cause the circuit portion of the strip to touch the aluminum foil and short out. The waterproof coating keeps the LED strip face from shorting out when it touches the aluminum foil.

Note: At first I started with 16 feet of LED strip and a spacing of 5.5 inches. Matching the source instructable I followed. The gaps proved to be too wide for my reflector / diffuser to handle. Leaving me with large darkened areas between the light strips. I then picked up a second roll of LED strip, giving me 32 feet total. The light coverage is much better now.

Mount Diffuser
Lay the window frame face down. Cut the fabric, so it covers the window frame with some overhang. We will trim the fabric later. To install the fabric, use a staple gun. Staple one side of the fabric down, with a staple every inch or two. Then before stapling the second side, use your hand to stretch the fabric TIGHT. Repeat. Staple first side, stretch fabric to the second side, staple second side.
Once all the staples are in place if the fabric still looks too loose, you can use a pliers to pull some of the staples and try again.

Mount Reflector and LEDs
I used aluminum tape to install the reflector to the back of the window frame. We want to block any light from escaping from the back and disturbing the illusion.

Final Cleanup
Install the blind, curtain rod, and valance. Mount to the wall. I used velcro to mount so the window frame wouldn’t move around, but I could still pull down in case of maintenance.

Here are my IFTTT recipes

Supernatural Thermal Scanner Prop (Laser EMF Reader)

Supernatural Laser EMF

This is my Laser EMF reader, aka Thermal Scanner prop. The Lasers, LCD, and Camera are all functional. In addition, I added gearing to the back so the Lasers could perform a synchronized linear scan.

From the supernatural TV show, there are a variety of EMF Readers used. Especially early on. This paper outlines many of the different variations.
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1NMHmjPoTBNc_L0q0NJRZ6udFnsk44N7sltnDHd17K4Q

The handheld device seen in episode S01E14 is not an EMF Reader, it is a Thermal Scanner.  I have made a few of these now and have enough pictures to make this write up.

Part List:

 

3D Printing:
The 3D printed parts are optional. I designed them to both hold the lasers and allow them to move in sync. If you opt not to use the 3D printed parts, you can substitute christmas light holders instead.

Supernatural Laser EMF Supernatural Laser EMF - 5

Painting:
Some of the terminal blocks are blue and need to be painted silver. Poke the terminals into some cardboard to hold upright. Spray paint before soldering into the circuit board.

Trimming:
With the Screw Terminals installed, you have a sense of how the board is laid out. You can see that the breadboard is too long. Use a saw or dremel to trim the board shorter. If the edge is jagged, cover with electrical tape.

Supernatural Laser EMF

Wiring:
This is mostly a wiring project. Most of the wires you see running around the prop are real. There are two voltages on the board, 9V and 3V. Both run to the Slide Switch, which is DPDT with two isolated switching paths.

Wiring 9V Path: The 9V comes from a pair of 9V batteries wired in parallel to increase run time of the LCD. After the Slide Switch, the 9V is wired to power the LCD, Camera, and LEDs.

Wiring 3V Path: The 3V comes from the 2xAA and powers the lasers. After the Slide Switch, the 3V is wired to a momentary button, and finally the lasers. Polarity is not marked on the lasers, so be careful when soldering on some power wires. After powering on for the first time, the lasers need to be tuned. Take a screwdriver and spin the potentiometer on the lasers. 5 turns counter-clockwise to reset, then slowly bring the laser back on. The green lasers I linked are only 10mW, but they sell more powerful laser diodes that can be dangerous. Be careful when working with the lasers. You want them set to the lowest brightness that they can be seen across a room.

Supernatural Laser EMF

Camera Wiring: Before doing anything, test the LCD and Camera by using the cables supplied in the combo kit. Power up with a 9V battery. After confirming you did not receive a DOA device, you can proceed with cutting the cables.

The cables that come with the LCD and Camera are meant for automotive installs. I cut these wires much shorter and splice back together. Do note that the camera likely has a black lump on the cable. This blob likely contains a 12V -> 5V converter. When splicing the cables shorter, keep this block intact and splice around, do not remove.

Supernatural Laser EMF - 6

Issues:
– Backup car lines on LCD are caused by the camera drawing them. Using a non-backup camera should fix.
– Lasers are difficult to tune so they are the same brightness.

 

Comparison of the Fire TV Stick 4K

A new firetv stick was announced today. The Fire TV Stick 4K.
https://amzn.to/2IBwuwD

Not to be confused with the more expensive FireTV, the FireTV Stick has been great as a low cost way to access streaming services. The FireTV Stick never before offered 4K. I always recommend 4K models of streaming devices. Even if you do not own a 4K TV, you will still benefit from the faster hardware when navigating the menus and get faster load times.

Prior to now, the fastest FireTV available was the FireTV 2 from 2015. The FireTV 3 pendent was marketed as 4K but was actually slower than the FireTV 2 in side by side comparisons. The $70 FireTV 3 was smaller and cheaper than the $100 FireTV 2.

This new Fire TV Stick 4K undercuts the current cheapest 4K champ from Roku. The Roku Streaming Stick+ sells for $70. The Fire TV Stick 4K is on preorder for $50, with an arrival date of October 31, 2018.

FireTV specs and prices (older models not available)

  • 2018 Fire TV Stick 4K – Quad-core 1.7 GHz – $50
  • 2016 Fire TV Stick (2) – Quad-core 1.3 GHz
  • 2014 Fire TV Stick (1) – Dual-core 1 GHz
  • 2017 Fire TV 4K – Quad-core 1.5 GHz – $70
  • 2015 Fire TV (2) – Quad-core 2.0/1.5 GHz
  • 2014 Fire TV (1) – Quad-core 1.7 GHz
  • 2018 FireTV Cube 4K – Quad-core 1.5 GHz – $120

Source: https://developer.amazon.com/de/docs/fire-tv/device-specifications.html

 

Follow Up: The Roku Premiere (3920R) is scheduled to be released on October 8th.  With a price of $40, the Roku Premiere will become the cheapest 4k streaming solution.
https://amzn.to/2xYi59C

 

Wyze Camera – Mini Butterbot – Rick & Morty

New baby at home so I am getting some use out of an old IP camera I placed in the nursery. My wife and I enjoyed it so much, I looked into adding a second. What I found was so cute, I 3D printed some arms and gave some wire touches.

The IP camera I was using was a Foscam FI8910W with a resolution of 640*480px, full pan/tilt, and 3rd party app compatibility. Old enough that it has no cloud features and if you want to access remotly, you better know how to add exceptions to your firewall.

Simply typing ip camera into amazon, the first non-sponsored result turned out to be a $25 marvel. The Wyze Cam. Full 1080HD, offline recording, Alexa. Perfect. Testing it out, the quality was fantastic. Remote access needed zero setup. Alexa setup just needed some basic steps to add the skill and link my account.

The base is magnetic with a pop out stand. Even though I recently watched Wall-E, instead this cube shape camera reminded me of the Butter Bot from Rick and Morty.

I made a trip to thingiverse to 3D print the appropriate arms. I drilled holes in the sides of the camera to attached the arms with a machine screw and washers. Thus, making the arms posable!

Project time: 15 minutes.

Ready Player One and TrackMania

I still call BS on Ready Player One movie adaptation. Spoilers, duh. A crazy unwinable race is taking place but you can win, if you go backwards from the starting line. Nobody discovered the secret for years! Bullsh**

Let me tell you a story about a game called TrackMania. It is a stunt based racing game. Community support has given TrackMania nearly unlimited custom tracks to play. When played at a LAN party, you can have a over 200 players on a server. All playing the same track. This is possible because each player is racing alone for the best lap time. You can see other players, but they are ghost cars that you can clip through. The match continues for a preset time, during which you can make as many attempts as you want at having the best lap time.

Because of the nature of user made tracks. Things get crazy really fast. Having the best lap time isn’t always about maintaining control of your car, making a perfect turn, or accelerating to “just” the right speed to jump from one halfpipe to the next.

So let me set this up for you. I drove 5+ hours to attend a LAN party in Menominee. It was setup in the college’s auditorium and was run like a big convention. Even inviting speakers and hosting workshops. Most folks were there for the various tournaments. The LAN party went on for THREE days. Guests were invited to stay the duration, but not necessarily play for 72 hours straight. Only weirdos best players like me stayed up all night. In the wee hours of the night, between the tournaments I signed up for, there were hours of downtime to fill. You could take a break, or join any one of the spontaneous LAN matches. TrackMania became very popular because of the number of players it supported and how crazy fun it can be.

Image Credit: PONG

Most tracks are a grind of memorization. Within the time limit, you can reset your car back to the start line and try again as many times as you want. Fall off the track and plummet to the ground? Reset. Flip upside down because you didn’t hit the loop de loop just right? Reset. As long as you have the lowest lap time by the end you can still win. However, the craziest tracks are so hard you can’t actually make it to the finish line more than once. The track is so crazy, with so many stunts and pitfalls, just surviving to the finish line gets you on the leaderboard.

One track in particular stands out in my memory. The time limit was set for 30 minutes. From the start line, you can see most of the track laid out before you. Dozens of half pipes and loops, jet propulsion lanes, all floating hundreds of feet in the air. My first attempt resulted in me plummeting to my demise within the first 10 seconds. With the advantage that I could see where other drivers were taking the jumps, little by little I would survive longer and longer down the track. After just 5 mins of game time, I noticed names appearing on the leaderboard. People were reaching the finish line. This was typical for our group of players. What wasn’t typical was the lap times. 5.6 seconds, 4.1 seconds, 3.5 seconds! I reset and stayed at the start line to watch them. They were driving backwards! The finish line was literally behind the starting line. You couldn’t see it at all from your perspective in the car, but if you blindly drove backwards sure enough. 3 second lap time.

My point is. This is the exact plot of the movie Ready Player One. Only in the movie, the entire overpopulated world played the race over and over. Failing for years to find the secret. Seriously? It took my group of maybe 50 people less than 10 minutes.

The plot from the book was so much better. The main character was a student with no money. The only reason he even owned a VR rig was a grant from a charity so he could attend high school safely. In VR his friends all had enough credits to go off world on the weekends. Leaving him alone on high school world. This is how he discovered and beat the first challenge. The creator wanted a student to win. That’s why the first key was placed on a school planet.

Sigh. Long story short. Go read the book. Play TrackMania.

How to Find $0.99 Digital Movies

When streaming, free with subscription is fine, free to own is better. Second best is $0.99 to buy a digital copy.

I used to have a deal alert saved on slickdeals for “free google play”. It worked for a while, each week I would receive an email listing all the free movies and songs that were currently for sale on google play. Eventually, I had to kill the deal alert when the notifications were taken over with device offers and free shipping.

I have found a replacement with JustWatch.com and their search filters. The following link searches Amazon Video for anything under $1, then sorts it by items that recently received a price drop.
https://www.justwatch.com/us/provider/amazon-video/new?content_type=movie&monetization_types=buy&max_price=1&timeline_type=pricedrops

The search results are very much “bargain bin” worthy, but there are some real gems in there if you like wacky B movies. I do!

PS Vita and Steam Remote Play with Moonlight

Back in April 2018. Shortly after Sony’s announcement that they were abandoning the PS Vita handheld. I paid $80 for my used psvita. Brand new sells for $250-300, but used models with low enough firmware for modding were being sold for $350 or more !! The psvita that I purchased was cheaper because it had the latest firmware installed and was incompatible with the current exploits for modding. Ignoring that for now, my psvita handheld turned out to be an amazing portable. Allowing me to remote play my ps4 from anywhere, lag free.  WOW!

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EMF Reader – Assembly Notes for Wire Clips

This is to help out folks making my DIY kit.  I took some photos while assembling my latest batch of EMF Readers.  Routing the wires can be tricky.  My method uses spare 22 gauge solid core wire, a soldering iron, and hot glue.  Makes the wires stay put.

Click the infographic for a larger version.

EMF Assembly Notes - Wire Clips

Antenna TV Research 2018

I created the Platteville HDTV Antenna and Streaming page to be dedicated to both streaming tv and local antenna tv solutions. For Platteville WI area residents, you can replace costly CenturyLink/DirectTV/Dish with a lighter package of live streaming cable channels and Madison broadcast channels.

CenturyLink no longer allows Platteville residents to sign up for PrismTV. Pushing new customers to DirectTV. CenturyLink will sell DirectTV to you as a “bundle discount”, but it is actually the same price as unbundled if you were to purchase seperate. The cheapest plan from DirectTV costs $70, on top of what you already pay to CenturyLink for internet. New subscribers to DirectTV are signed up at a 50% discount for the first 12 months, afterwhich your bills double and they equipment rental fee you to death. When I cancelled DirectTV after the third year, my bill was around $160 per month. That is a LOT to pay for local TV channels and a few dozen cable channels!!

What is the better way?

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