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Quality assurance staff at Microsoft’s ZeniMax Media are moving toward unionizing

Microsoft’s pledge to stay neutral in unionization efforts is about to be tested in a big way. On Monday, quality assurance staff at ZeniMax Media went public with the news that they’re working to form a union. The approximately 300 workers involved in the effort want to be represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA). That’s the same union that recently helped QA staff at Raven Software and Blizzard Albany win their organization bids.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to Engadget’s comment request. A company spokesperson told The New York Times Microsoft was “committed to providing employees with an opportunity to freely and fairly make choices about their workplace representation,” adding the campaign was “an example of our labor principles in action.”

ZeniMax Media is the parent company of some of Microsoft’s most prized first-party studios, including Arkane, Bethesda and id Software. Microsoft paid $7.5 billion in an all-cash deal to acquire the publisher in 2020. A successful unionization bid would affect all the studios under the ZeniMax umbrella.

According to The Times, QA staff at ZeniMax began voting on unionization on December 2nd, the same day testers at Blizzard Albany voted 14 to 0 to join the CWA. Staff at the Microsoft subsidiary can share their stance on the matter by signing a union authorization card or by voting through an electronic portal. A decision is expected before the end of the month.

In June, Microsoft announced it would respect all unionization efforts at Activision Blizzard following the close of its $68.7 billion deal to buy the publisher. At the time, the company signed a landmark neutrality agreement with the Communications Workers of America. Antitrust regulators in the UK and EU are currently conducting investigations of Microsoft’s bid to buy Activision Blizzard.

Amazon set to launch Prime Gaming in India

Amazon is inching closer to launching Prime Gaming, its subscription service that offers free access to a number of titles and which ships bundled with Amazon Prime and Video plans, to its members in India, according to the company’s website. “With Prime Gaming (included with your Prime membership) unlock instant access to tons of exclusive […]

Amazon set to launch Prime Gaming in India by Manish Singh originally published on TechCrunch

Google introduces “Continuous Scrolling” on desktop for Search

Google is introducing a “Continuous Scrolling” feature on the desktop so users don’t have to navigate across pages to find the relevant search results for English-language queries in the U.S., expanding a feature the company has offered on mobile for some time. Notably, users shouldn’t mistake continuous scrolling for infinite scrolling. With continuous scrolling, users […]

Google introduces “Continuous Scrolling” on desktop for Search by Ivan Mehta originally published on TechCrunch

Cubzh wants to build the next-generation Minecraft

Meet Cubzh, a new free-to-play video game that is all about user-generated content through a cube system. The company has designed a new platform from scratch and wants to empower creators with the ability to create new objects, build worlds and define games rules thanks to a scripting environment. This summer, the company raised a […]

Cubzh wants to build the next-generation Minecraft by Romain Dillet originally published on TechCrunch

Pixel 7 update brings promised Clear Calling and free VPN

Google is releasing its latest round of Pixel updates today, including the free VPN the company teased at its October event. Clear Calling also launches to the public alongside updates for its voice memo app and new sleep features for the Pixel Watch.

Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro users can now use the Google One VPN on their phones for free (rather than buying it bundled with a $10-per-month storage plan). Although Google’s VPN doesn’t support regional location switching, it secures your browsing activity on the web and in apps.

Clear Calling, Google’s voice isolation for calls which had been in beta since October, is now available for all Pixel 7 series owners. The AI-powered feature makes calls in noisy environments sound better by bringing your voice to the forefront while drowning out background noise. Recorder, Google’s AI-based voice memo app, now transcribes and organizes recordings for multiple people. It labels each speaker’s text, separating their transcriptions with line breaks — handy for meetings or interviews. That feature is also exclusive to the Pixel 7 series.

Screenshot of Recorder app on Pixel phones, which separates transcriptions of different speakers.

Google says spatial audio will arrive in January for Pixel Buds Pro paired with a Pixel phone. Like the iPhone/AirPods feature of the same name, it provides a head-tracked surround-sound effect for movies and shows. However, Google’s version doesn’t yet support music or a fixed-position surround effect.

Pixel owners will also see a new security and privacy hub. The app shows risk levels and settings for protecting your data, and it will alert you to any concerns it detects while recommending fixes.

Screenshot of a new Security & Privacy hub on Pixel phones

New sleep features are available for Pixel Watch owners. Fitbit Sleep Profiles analyze your slumber with insights like “time before sound sleep” and “nights with long awakenings.” It also assigns you a monthly Sleep Animal, a critter whose sleep patterns mirror yours. Anyone who already tracked their sleep for at least two weeks this past November will see their animal today, while everyone else will have to wait until January.

The Pixel Watch also receives new Wear Tiles (Wear OS widgets) for Weather and Contacts. Additionally, Google says the smartwatch will receive a Fall Detection feature in 2023. Like the Apple Watch feature of the same name, it contacts emergency services if you fall and don’t respond.

Cooler Master has a big ‘immersive’ gaming pod too

Why settle for a desk and an ultrawide monitor when you can buy a multi-purpose computing pod? That’s the question Cooler Master hopes the Orb X, its newly announced semi-enclosed work and gaming station (via Gizmodo), will prompt you to ponder. While the Orb X won’t completely isolate you from the outside world, your family and roommates will definitely accuse you of being antisocial once you’re cocooned inside its ABS plastic shell.

The built-in recliner is made from “genuine leather,” and features a fully adjustable headrest, lumbar support and leg rest. Once you’re seated, the motorized dome at the top of the Orb X lowers a screen to eye level. Speaking of screens, you can configure the pod with either a single 34-inch monitor or up to three 27-inch displays. Completing the multimedia experience, the Orb X also comes with a built-in surround sound system that Cooler Master says will let you enjoy a realistic soundstage without fancy headphones.

Cooler Master Orb X
Cooler Master

Other nifty features include a hidden compartment where you can store your PC and consoles. Inside, you’ll also find a desk with built-in wireless charging and a handful of USB-A and USB-C ports. Oh, and the whole thing obviously features RGB accent lighting.

While it’s far from a crowded market, Cooler Master isn’t the only company producing a behemoth like the Orb X. In 2018, Acer announced the $20,000 Predator Thronos before following it up with the more affordable Thronos Air one year later. Cooler Master has yet to announce pricing details for the Orb X, or, for that matter, a release date. If you’re keen on finding out when it’s available for pre-order, you can register for a waiting list.

The merged HBO Max and Discovery+ streaming service could be simply called ‘Max’

Warner Bros. Discovery will soon combine HBO Max and Discovery+ into a single streaming service with a new name. Right now, it seems that the frontrunner for the merged platform’s moniker is “Max,” which would ditch the more instantly recognizable part of HBO Max’s branding.

Lawyers for the company are vetting several names, but Max is said to be the leading the pack. A Warner Bros. spokesperson told CNBC that the company was still discussing the name. They’ll need to make a decision fairly soon, though, as the merged streaming service is slated to arrive in the spring.

HBO has built up a certain level of prestige over the years. However, Warner Bros. Discovery leaders are said to see some value in positioning HBO as a sub-brand alongside the likes of Discovery and CNN. The company’s CEO David Zaslav slashedspending on HBO Max after WarnerMedia and Discovery merged earlier this year. The streaming service will have much more to offer than HBO content as well.

As CNBC notes, there has been some confusion surrounding the branding of HBO streaming apps — HBO Max was preceded by HBO Go and HBO Now. Having another one with HBO in the name could further muddy the waters. Moreover, executives are said to have expressed concern that the HBO Max name could weaken the value of HBO as a brand if consumers link it to less-prestigious content on the streaming service.

The new-look platform will reportedly have a similar to set up to Disney+, with hubs for content from HBO, Discovery, DC Comics, Warner Bros. and more (Disney+ has ones for Star Wars, Pixar, National Geographic and so on). It’s not yet clear how much subscriptions to Max, or whatever it ends up being called, will cost.