Tuesday, June 2, 2009, 9:17 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
The folks at Microsoft are determined to make Xbox 360 a winner in the free-for-all to bridge broadband-delivered video to the TV. Yesterday at E3, Microsoft announced a number of enhancements for Xbox and Xbox LIVE (the console's gaming and content marketplace), further blurring the lines between gaming and entertainment, and raising the stakes for other single-purpose convergence boxes. The new features include:
- Instant-on streaming of 1080p HD video with 5.1 channel surround sound using proprietary Microsoft adaptive bit rate streaming technology
- Smooth fast-forward and rewind, comparable to DVD
- "Movie Parties" - avatar-based shared/social viewing in virtual theaters
- Live on-demand BSKyB through Xbox in UK and Ireland
- Rebranding of Xbox LIVE Video Marketplace as Zune Video Marketplace, which joins the 2 brands in anticipation of the upcoming launch of Zune HD; additional content planned.
- Expansion to 10 new regions, bringing the total number of countries able to access TV shows and movies through XBox to 18
- Facebook, Twitter and Last.fm integrations
Of course, Xbox 360's key advantage in moving into entertainment is that it has a huge installed base of early-adopter gamers to leverage; in fast Microsoft said last week that it has sold over 30M Xbox 360 consoles to date and that there are over 20M active members in the Xbox LIVE community (not only a subset are Gold members able to access some of the entertainment offerings like Netflix streaming). Little has been disclosed about Netflix Watch Instantly consumption since February when the companies said that 1M LIVE Gold members had consumed 1.5B minutes of video in the first 3 months of availability.
Microsoft isn't forgetting that Xbox is still primarily a gaming platform; yesterday it rolled out a slew of games for Xbox, including "The Beatles: Rock Band" with Ringo and Paul making personal appearances. Xbox also unveiled its "Project Natal" a controller-less, 3D sensor that detects a gameplayer's movements. All of these will continue to drive console unit sales.
No doubt there are plenty of other things the Xbox 360 team has planned to make the console a highly attractive "over the top" option for those considering cutting the cord on their current video service provider, though Xbox 360 is not being positioned this way - yet.
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