New revenue opportunities for Windows developers?

So I was in two minds as to what the make the title for this blog post but having received the email below from microsoft this morning my immediate take away wasn’t about the ‘new opportunities’ but about the decreased cut of app proceeds imposed on developers.  here is the email:

Adding new revenue opportunities for you is a key priority for Windows Store. To attract more store customers, we recently launched new Windows Store and Xbox gift cards. Gift cards are now available at thousands of new retail locations and online stores in 41 markets. Windows and Xbox gift cards work interchangeably and can be used on both Windows and Xbox stores. Sales associates will promote gift cards to customers who want to give gifts, buy apps without a credit card, or fund a child’s account without the worry of overspending.

With the recent expansion and because gift cards have higher costs due to packaging costs and revenue sharing with channel partners, a Commerce Expansion Adjustment will be added to app and in-app product purchases made with gift cards. The Commerce Expansion Adjustment is an additional percentage on top of the normal Store Fee (percentage of Net Receipts) that is deducted in calculating the App Proceeds payable for apps or in-app product transactions using gift cards.
The Commerce Expansion Adjustment for gift cards will take effect in
specified markets in March 2016 at a rate of 2.24%. Details about how the Commerce Expansion Adjustment is calculated and deducted from App Proceeds can be found in the App Developer Agreement.
Windows Dev Center allows you to choose which markets you publish your apps and how you price them in each market. In doing so, you may want to consider if the Commerce Expansion Adjustment applies in a specific market and factor that into your market pricing strategy going forward.
For further details about the Commerce Expansion Adjustment and the list of markets where it applies see your
App Developer Agreement and Windows Dev Center.
Thank you,
The Windows Dev Center Team

I am sad to see that there is a need to cut developer proceeds in this way.  I have found it difficult to justify the development of apps for Windows and Windows Mobile (in spite of the fact that I have found the process enjoyable and the tooling excellent) and have felt forced into looking at reducing (if not completely eliminating) the time I am able to devote to developing apps for the Microsoft store.

Sad times.

 

Update

image

It is with some sadness that I have decided to withdraw all my apps from the Windows Store.  I felt this was necessary in order  to clear the decks and prepare for future projects.

NB My understanding is that this process will take some time before it is reflected in the non availability of some 300 or so of my apps in the Windows and Mobile Store.

(Easy) Custom Web Tiles for Microsoft Band

My wife leaves for work quite early in the morning and a few times every year has to turn back and take a different route as a result of flooding.  Now that she has joined me in the ranks of ‘Band Wearer’ I thought I would look to see if I could set up any kind of flood notification for her so that she wouldn’t get so delayed.

Here are the steps I took:

 

Having previously come accross this site:

http://www.gaugemap.co.uk/

which covers flooding points accross the whole of the UK.

I picked out the particular point of interest (Haw bridge), which has it’s own twitter site here:

 

https://twitter.com/riverlevel_0030

 

Now, in the good old days getting an RSS eed from Twitter was a straightforward affair but now you have to go around the houses as the API requires a unique identifier for the feed.

I did some searching on the web and came accross this which looked to fit the bill:

 

http://www.labnol.org/internet/twitter-rss-feed/28149/

 

Following these instructions and substituting the above twitter feed I was able to end up with my own RSS feed of Haw Bridge Tweets:

image

Perfect!  Now it was just a question of running through all the steps of the web tile maker here:

https://developer.microsoftband.com/WebTile/ChooseLayout

(Reproduced below)

image

image

badgeIcon(Icon)

… and i was good to go!

 

NB I have submitted the tile to Microsoft, if it passes muster (not sure if the google bit will) then you should be able to load it direct from the gallery using the “Microsoft Health” App on your device.

(See previous web band article here for another ‘getting started’)

Microsoft Fitness Band Web Tiles

 

Microsoft Band

While not strictly fitness  related the Cortana ‘news feed’ on the band is nevertheless one of the most useful day to day features.  If, like me, you enjoy this additional functionality then read on!

One of the nice side pieces of functionality for this device is it’s ability to display RSS feeds – this means that if you have a particular favourite subject, be it anything from Dog Grooming Tips to the usual Geek related  news you can be alerted of new nuggets of information without having to delve into your pocket (or handbag) and pull out your Phone!

I thought it might be useful to add a few tiles that  I created myself to this page – to use them on your own band all you need to do is navigate to this site on your phone (iPhone, Android or Windows Phone) and click on them – this will trigger the install and they should end up on your Fitness Band.

From time to time I will update this page with new Tiles so be sure and check back!

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Windows 10 Spartan Browser – Build 10049

Woke up this morning and the new Enterprise build of Windows 10 technical preview had installed itself.  After going through the usual setup screens the first thing I noticed was the inclusion of the new Spartan browser: 

spartan1

After navigating to my own blog page 😉 I started to look at some of the new features:

 

Toolbar Buttons:

The new ‘add to favourites’ button has received a welcome makeover:

Spartan2 faves

I switched over in the ‘new style’ tabs back to the Spartan welcome page.

Looking at the next ‘history/favourites’ browser also received the Windows 10 makeover treatment:

Spartan3 faves 

But the first ‘totally new’ feature to catch my attention is the new ‘review’ toolbar that allow various notes and editing features on the browser surface itself:

Spartan4 paintjpg

 

Spartan5

The first drawing feature also has an additional dropdown to allow selection of colour and nib size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next button is, as you might expect from the icon, a highlighter that works, well,  just as you might expect:

Spartan6

(The eraser “rubber” button also works as expected!)

The next button allows the addition of notes to be made to a selected area of the page:

Spartan7

The final button from the selection on the left allows selection of areas of the page.  These can then be saved (as bitmaps) or shared with others:using the context drop down menu:

Spartan8 highlight area

I knew little about the objectives of Spartan and wasn’t sure how I felt about looking/using another new browser – so it was nice to first be presented with something that looks clean (dare I say almost Spartan in it’s appearance) and that worked as anticipated while including some genuinely useful new editing features.

I will continue looking at this build and post more findings throughout the day as I come across them.

Textures

4k_30_logo

With very little around in the way of 4k content I decided to set about creating something for myself and others to enjoy.  Of course the project ended up snowballing and has resulted in the release of the “Textures” video (I believe the first commercial 4k release in the UK!).  I thought I should write something to accompany the release and shine some light on the steps that led up to it:

Disappointed with the smattering of 4k content on the web, much of which seemed effects laden (I always wanted the focus to be on the resolution/detail and nothing else). And so it was that I started to think about recording some 4k content myself: Having already photographed much of the three Counties for ‘Vantage Point’ my first thought was to utilise the same great historical scenery to show the level of detail that can be captured in 4k. 

I guess that was when I had one of two epiphanies:

 

1. I realised that focussing on great architecture (or any great subject) actually distracted one from the main objective – which was to highlight the sheer quality and detail) *

2. I found that the more subtle and static the subject matter was – the more one engaged with the quality and detail that was there!

These two realisations led me towards thinking about different subject matter and  in reviewing the content that I already had the answer seemed obvious (if a little counter-intuitive when expressed in print)  – ignore the traditionally interesting subjects and find something less obvious, yet more relevant instead!

After some experimentation with smaller 4k video devices I decided that to do the project justice I would need something closer to the professional 4K rigs that are out of my reach.  I settled on the Panasonic FZ1000 – which although essentially a stills camera, has had some stunning reviews relating to its 4K video quality.

I quickly started to appreciate that just a little movement within a detailed scene was far more effective than anything Michael Bay might produce (!) and it followed that my own garden, with it’s gentle breezes and meandering streams, was an obvious place to start.  I have to say that I had not fully anticipated the depth of content that sat so close to my own front door and yet I stumbled several times after devising “great panning and zoom shots across the meadow”– only to realise again that these simply detracted from the main objective.  I am reminded of a phrase that has oft been repeated in my career as a software developer that was revealing itself to be just as relevant with my new hobby – “Keep it simple, stupid! ” 

 

 

* I realised that this was always going to be true for the majority of movies and TV releases in 4k – sure the detail is there but you are actually engaged in following the storyline rather than focussing on the medium itself – this is, of course, just as it should be, albeit at odds with the objective here.

http://youtu.be/mJgEScor9YM

So if you want to see what that new 4k TV can do, and you like the look of the clip above then please take a look!

NB The full version of the video can be ordered here:

Textures 4K Video (USB Stick)

 

All video was shot using a Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 camera (F2.8-4, 25-400mm lens).
The result was edited in Power Director 13 and the final result made ready for distribution on EX-FAT USB Sticks by encoding with the H.265 video codec.

 

Where to next?

I have no idea if anyone else is really interested in what I have tried to do here – for me I now feel I have a good appreciation of 4K.  But there were always going to be some technical shortcomings and compromises (HECV is good but any compression medium has to be a bad thing for quality).  I am also not a professional cameraman, nor do I have professional equipment but I guess there has to be a starting point and all in all I am very happy with the results of my first endeavour!

Please be supportive.

Hisense LTDN65K680M3D 65 Inch 4K UHD Smart Television Review – 4K Quality Test

 

So having already stated that I bought this set as an HD upgrade to my existing set I obviously have half an eye on what this set can do with a 4K video source.and also as a 4K development desktop

I’ll start with my conclusion – in two words – absolutely stunning!

NB For this test I used this PC linked via HDMI 1.4 at 30Hz and ran through some 4k content I had picked up on the net.

Having seen the set looking this good, but not wanting to have a Desktop PC Base in my lounge I am now definitely thinking about what is the minimum spec PC that I can get away with that delivers this sort of quality?  Although this desktop machine uses an AMD GPU (which is fabulous) I don’t really need that kind of grunt for watching 4K video and am already thinking in terms of one of NVIDIA’s Kepler based GPUs (if for no other reason than to experiment with 4K at 60Hz (though having witnessed these demos running at 30Hz I seriously doubt the value of the extra Hz!)

 

(Actual Screen Grabs from the Hisense)

Interestingly I found that the TV would output at what I understand to be UHD (3840 pixels wide by 2160 pixels tall) but actually has a default capability that is even higher than that (4096×2160)!  An unexpected bonus!

Conclusion: Congratulations to everyone who managed to pick this up on Cyber Monday but even at £1499 it represents excellent value for money!

And it is also good to see the following quote from Hisense UK

“We will be releasing boxes next year capable of playing 4K content and providing new HDMI and HEVC capabilities for these monitors as and when more 4K sources become available” (I have confirmed that this monitor is included).

Not sure but possibly the box that Hisense are talking about may be something along the lines of this?

Footnote: I am looking at adding one of these to play back 4K video until such time as the above box becomes available.

There is a good article about the likely availability (and reasons for the current lack of) 4k content):

http://www.tomsguide.com/us/4k-video-source-faq,news-18021.html

 

UPDATE

The Android M8 has arrived and thus far is looking like a good short term partner for the HiSense.   By default it pops up in 720p resolution and so the first thing to do is to set it to 4K:

Office Lens_20141209_101103_processed 

The one I got came with XBMX and a 4K video player pre-installed:

Office Lens_20141209_101951_processed

It played all the 4K videos I had downloaded flawlessly:

WP_20141209_001

I downloaded PLEX to pick up my networked photos and videos – this worked as anticipated and everything looked great!

Update:

I noticed that someone has posted their own preferred settings for this TV which turn out to be similar to the ones that I had set myself:

Pic mode:user
Brightness: 41
Contrast:70
Colour:44
Sharpness: 10
Noise reduction: off
Backlight: manual/15
Colour temp:standard
Dynamic contrast: off
Skin tone off
Motion effect: off.

Hisense LTDN65K680M3D 65 Inch 4K UHD Smart Television Review – Upscaling

 

If I am honest I bought this TV because it fell within my upgrade criteria (see my last post but one if that sounds remotely interesting) I was familiar with 4K TVs but had no real plans to get one just yet.  But when I spotted the Hisense ar such a good price I could not resist!  When I think about it the most use that this TV will currently get is in watching standard HD, and so the up scaling quality to 4K is quite important.

I haven’t had the device long but reading the article below suggests that Hisense have favoured the “Halos effect” which to my eyes reminds me a little of the ‘oil painting’ filter common in graphics packages (Paint.Net has a great oil filter – use it just a little on a photograph and you will see what I mean).

image

Examples of the different artefacts produced by up-scaling algorithms

So that is no bad thing but my gut feeling is  there might be better options for up-scaling (by better I also mean more processor intensive) and so I am already starting to think about alternatives (perhaps one of the newer BluRay players that sport custom up-scaling technology up to 4K)

A good (and straightforward) explanation of up scaling issues:

http://www.red.com/learn/red-101/upscaled-1080P-vs-4K/

Is up-scaling important?

As this diagram shows the further away from your set you sit the less important up-scaling is (you might have the best up-scaler around but be sitting too far away to really be getting any benefit!)

 

“Mastered in 4K”

I will come back to this but have to say that I was a little disappointed with the BluRay for “Taxi Driver” which to my eyes looks quite grainy.  of course the age of the film is largely responsible for this perhaps making it not the best choice as an example of this process. (though I welcome the chance to see this film again on the ‘big screen’(!))

 

Taxi Driver / After Earth /Angels & Deamons (Mastered in 4k 1080p BluRay)

(Not sure how these come across on the web but they look pretty impressive in ‘real life’ :-)

 

YouView

YouView remote control

 

I use a YouView box most of the time for watching and recording TV.  It up-scales well (both SD and HD).

I found it handy to program the YouView remote with the code for the Hisense  which enables me to control a lot of the Hisense’s functionality without having to pick up a separate control.

Incidentally the control code for the Hisense is “491” – to program hold down the TV button for 3 seconds, enter 491 (The TV will switch off) then press OK and you are done.!)

Hisense LTDN65K680M3D 65 Inch 4K UHD Smart Television Review – Device Mirroring

Office Lens_20141205_124430

 

 

So one menu option on the Hisense that caught my eye was “AnyView Cast”.  This is supposed to allow your phone or tablet screen to be mirrored on the big screen over wifi.

 

I selected the option on the TV  (see screen 1) and picked up my HP Stream 7 Windows 8 device and proceeded to pair the two devices

 

 

 

 

Office Lens_20141205_123251

 

 

 

I am an optimist but even I was a little surprised when It worked first time!  (The HP Stream is a fantastic device and definitely seems to be able to punch above it’s weight in the specs department)..

NOTE: Having said that it worked first time I did find that subsequent connections sometimes failed!

 

 

 

 

With apologies for not thinking out a better scenario (and the lack of sound)  but at least you can see this functionality in action: in the short clip below:

 

BTW In case anyone is wondering this scenario is not going to give you 4K – but it’s a useful thing to have built into your TV nevertheless!