Amazon is offering Echo voice tech to other manufacturers

Now that Amazon's voice-controlled Echo speaker is available to everyone, the company is hinting at third-party devices that will make use of the same voice tech that powers the Echo's built-in assistant, "Alexa." Additionally, Amazon is giving developers access to the Alexa Skills Kit, a free SDK that will make it easy for them to create new features for the Echo platform. Lastly, the company launched the Alexa Fund, a $100 million endowment designed to support developers, manufacturers and startups who are interested in making voice-powered products for its ecosystem. To be a part of it, Amazon says it's going to base those decisions on the technology's ability to influence the Alexa Skills Kit or the Alexa Voice Service. What this tells us, though, is that Amazon is getting serious about what appeared to be a simple side-project from the beginning.

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Taylor Swift demonstrated her power in the entertainment industry when she wrote an open, widely publicized letter to Apple slamming the company for not paying artists during Apple Music's three-month trial period for each new customer. Apple quickly reversed that policy, promising to pay every artist, even indies, during the trial period. It seems Swift is ready to forgive and forget -- today, she announced that her newest album, 1989, will be available on Apple Music. "After the events of this week, I've decided to put 1989 on Apple Music... and happily so," Swift tweeted.

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The excitement around virtual reality may have started when Sony unveiled Project Morpheus last year, but last week's E3 was its coming out party. The thing is, I've been around long enough to remember the hype and subsequent commercial flatline over gaming in stereoscopic 3D. So going into this year's grand gaming gala, I was skeptical -- I had that awkward tech history footnote in mind -- and to a point, I still am. But Oculus helped me get over that a bit. All it took was a game from a trusted developer -- Insomniac Games -- and an input solution that makes VR feel less isolating.

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Elton John

With Apple Music launching in less than a week, much of the focus has been on its relationship with artists and the royalties it pays. Thanks to Taylor Swift, it appears to have weathered its minor storm, allowing it to focus on other parts of its upcoming launch. Beats 1, for example, will begin broadcasting on June 30 and will be fronted by ex-Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe in Los Angeles, Ebro Darden in New York and Julie Adenuga in London. When Apple's first live radio station was announced, it wasn't known how the company intended to fill the programming gaps between the three main hosts. However, the New York Times reports that it has lined up a number of high-profile musicians to do their part, with Dr. Dre Pharrell Williams, Drake, Jaden Smith, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, Disclosure and even Elton John due to present their own shows.

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At E3 Bungie announced The Taken King expansion for Destiny, and as we explained this morning that didn't go over very well with existing players. One of the main reasons is that, aside from a $40 price for the expansion itself, Bungie made exclusive downloadables that only people buying the complete game as part of a new collector's edition could get. Tonight the developer published an early "Part 1" of its usual weekly update, apologizing for that awkward Eurogamer interview and explaining that existing players can get the new items (three specific class emotes, three color schemes for their armor, and three exotic class items) by shelling out $20 for an upgrade bundle it will put on sale September 15th. That's certainly better than not being able to get it at all -- and cheaper than buying the new $80 CE -- but let us know if that's enough, or if you're still calling BS.

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For the most part, Nintendo kept quiet during E3 2015 -- at least in comparison to PlayStation and Xbox. But today the company's celebrating a huge milestone for Splatoon, the magical third-person shooter that was recently launched on the Wii U. Nintendo announced the game has sold over 1 million copies since being released, making it one of the most successful Wii U titles to date. In a press statement, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said, "This milestone puts us in a nice position as we prepare to launch 11 more exclusive Wii U and Nintendo 3DS games before the end of the year, plus amiibo, digital offerings and games from our third-party partners." So, if you don't have a Wii U or a 3DS, now might be the time to reconsider.

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Destiny Red Bull

Last week, Destiny developer Bungie was riding high following the reveal of the game's biggest expansion to date, The Taken King. Gamers were excited to learn about the new subclasses, missions, weapons, armor and, most importantly, a new raid focused on Crota's vengeful dad, Oryx. But as E3 2015 wound down, an interview between Eurogamer and Luke Smith, Bungie's creative director on The Taken King, quickly derailed the game maker's momentum and turned Destiny's most supportive players against it. Just two days later, Bungie has inexplicably painted itself into a corner by dropping the ball for a second time.

Update: Bungie has responded with an early weekly update -- get the details here.

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'Mozart in the Jungle'

Determined to watch streaming video with the maximum color range possible? You now have your chance. As promised, Amazon Prime Instant Video is now offering high dynamic range (HDR) videos to American customers. Watch the first season of Mozart in the Jungle on the right TV (currently, that means one of Samsung's SUHD models) and you should see more vivid colors as well as a greater level of detail in highlights and shadows. The move is as much about bragging rights as anything else -- Amazon is beating Netflix to the punch, and HDR doesn't automatically make everything better. It also won't help much if you're in the UK or have the 'wrong' TV. All the same, this is a big step forward for internet video quality.

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2015 Los Angeles Film Festival - "Dope" Premiere

Pharrell Williams has announced that his upcoming song Freedom will be exclusive to Apple Music, the first of no doubt many such announcements to come. The news isn't a huge surprise, considering that the track was featured at Apple's WWDC 2015 developers conference during the Apple Music launch. It's still a coup for Cupertino, however, considering Pharrell's "Happy" was the number one US single last year. Williams made the reveal via a short video teaser on his Facebook page, which noted that the song would arrive "only on Apple Music" on the service's June 30th launch date.

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14th Annual AFI Awards Luncheon - Cocktail Reception

We've come a long way from Qwikster. Netflix's stock price has more than doubled since last December, and with prices of shares nearing $700 today it announced plans (PDF) for a 7-for-1 stock split. The price closed today at $681, and the Board of Directors approved a plan to distribute six additional shares for each one held as of the close of business on July 2nd. In terms of how often we see something like that, this comes about a year after Apple announced its own 7-for-1 split. On a melancholy note, the split will come almost five years to the day after Blockbuster's attempt at a reverse stock split to avoid delisting fell through. Ouch.

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The Last Guardian needs to be perfect. Fans of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus have been waiting for this, the third game from director Fumito Ueda, since it was announced in 2009. As issues with its production went public and development appeared to slow to a crawl, The Last Guardian entered the misty, nostalgic realm of what if in many fans' minds. Then, Sony opened its E3 2015 press conference with a gameplay trailer of The Last Guardian on PlayStation 4, and those nearly forgotten dreams were suddenly reality. The trailer featured a young, toga-clad boy and Trico, a massive cat-bird-dog creature, as they traversed cavernous, crumbling ruins bathed in brilliant sunlight. Their journey, however, has roots in a prison cell buried in the dead city's tall, grey walls.

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Showtime is following HBO's lead and launching an internet-only version of its service in July, but cutting the cable doesn't mean the bundle is going away. In a first for Hulu, it's adding the network as a premium option similar to the way it's offered with cable TV. While Showtime by itself will be available for $11 per month on Apple TV, Roku or PlayStation Vue, $8 per month Hulu subscribers (no Plus, it dropped that name a few weeks ago) can add it for $9 and stream the network's stuff to anywhere they usually watch Hulu.

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BASKET-NBA-FINALS-WARRIORS-CAVALIERS

If you're tired of bundles that force you to pay hundreds of dollars for games you'll never watch, two new developments might make you happy. First off, the NBA has announced that you can now buy individual games and team packages on its League Pass subscription, a fairly radical move that's likely to irk cable operators. On another front, DirecTV and the NFL have been slapped with a class-action suit claiming that the NFL Sunday Ticket violates antitrust laws.

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We're back after an impromptu break, and while HBO has reloaded on its series (Ballers, Brink, True Detective S2), there's a lot new this week to look out for. For the creepy sci-fi vibe there are two opportunities with Humans on AMC (you can watch the premiere episode on YouTube) and Mr. Robot on USA. Battlebots is back on ABC and Netflix will even have the season-ending episode of Between so you can binge properly. The other big streaming highlight is Netflix's Nina Simone documentary, which will arrive Friday morning (unless it gets released early). For gamers, we have Batman: Arkham Knight, plus PlanetSide 2 on PS4, while sports fans can tune in to the Women's World Cup and NBA Draft. Look after the break to check out each day's highlights, including trailers and let us know what you think (or what we missed).

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Australia passes controversial law to block 'pirate' sites

Australia's senate has passed a controversial bill allowing sites hosted overseas that distribute pirated material to be blocked at the ISP level. But which sites to block is not up to the service providers to choose, instead movie and music studios and other rights holders can go to a federal court and demand sites whose "primary purpose" is the illegal sharing of copyrighted material be blocked by the country's ISPs. For obvious reasons, the providers are not particularly happy with the result of the vote. Especially since it's not clear who will be footing the bill for any costs associated with blocking the sites. But those internet companies had plenty of allies in the battle against the bill, including the country's green party. But the coalition wasn't enough to fight off the entertainment industry.

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