GamesBeat

Microsoft upgrades Xbox Live with 40 entertainment services, live TV, and Kinect voice control

Xbox Live isn’t just an online gaming service anymore. Microsoft is announcing today that the new version of its Xbox Live user interface will help transform entertainment on the television. The upgrade goes live on Tuesday.

Calling it the future of TV, Microsoft is unveiling a new user interface for the Xbox 360′s dashboard; it is also unveiling dozens of new options for watching movies and TV on the console. Microsoft has also improved the quality of using Kinect voice commands to move from one choice to another, or to search through all of the entertainment options at your disposal in an instant.

The update is one of the biggest in the past five years for the Xbox 360 because Microsoft is trying to improve the experience of watching entertainment. It also includes cloud-based access and storage for gamers to improve the basic gaming experience.

“We think you’re going to use one device for movies, music and games in the future,” said Ross Honey, general manager of Xbox Live entertainment and advertising, in an interview.  “We want to make the content accessible and enhance the actual experience. We think you will want to watch it on Xbox as it is more social and more personal.”

The update will be live on Tuesday for Xbox Live users, and it will greatly multiply the entertainment options that people have in their homes, providing access to on-demand TV, movies and user-generated videos. You can, for instance, get access to 26 TV channels from Verizon’s FiOS TV services, or the complete library of 10,000 On Demand movies from Comcast. You can download the new update in a matter of minutes.

“A lot of people have said they’re going to reinvent television,” Honey said. “I’m going to say it as well.”

When you say “Xbox,” the Microsoft Kinect motion-sensor and voice communication system springs to life. Then you can say “Bing” to activate the Bing search function across the entire console and ask it to find anything related to the word “X-Men.” Bing will show you X-Men movie, TV or game selections. Then you can choose an option, such as Zune or Netflix, to view the selection. The Kinect system generally works better than it did with voice controls last year.

The new visual user interface is borrowed from Metro, the square tiles and buttons from Microsoft’s user interface for Windows Phone 7 devices. The Windows 8 operating system arriving next year features the Metro interface in smartphones, tablets and PCs. The point is that you will be able to use the interface to get to the entertainment you want more quickly. And you won’t have to relearn different interfaces to access lots of content.

You can use your voice to find the games, movies, TV shows and music. The results come back and then you can choose the service that can best deliver the entertainment to you at the lowest cost. Bing search on Xbox with voice commands will be available at first in English in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. Text search works if you don’t have Kinect. Microsoft has sold more than 57 million Xbox 360s and it has more than 35 million Xbox Live members.

You can also use your Windows Phone 7 smartphone to cruise for shows, select the one you want to watch, and then see the movie appear on your screen as your Xbox 360 fetches the movie from the cloud and streams it to your TV set. All you have to do is get the Xbox Companion app for Windows Phone.

That leads us to one of the cool things about the Xbox Live update. Now you will be able to log into your gamertag identity on any Xbox 360. You can then play your saved games or watch your in-progress movies on any Xbox 360, thanks to cloud storage.

If you want to watch new release movies, you’ll have choices such as Zune, Epix, and others. Among the catalog of services available are Hulu Plus, Last.fm, Netflix, Zune music and video and ESPN. TV providers include AT&T U-verse TV in the U.S., Telus in Canada, BSkyB in the U.K., CANAL+ in France, Vodafone Portugal, VimpelCom in Russia, and Foxtel in Australia.

Microsoft has made a lot of progress on its original vision of turning the Xbox 360 into a gateway for all living room entertainment. The console was introduced as a game machine in 2005 with the cool Xbox Live online gaming service. The next year, Microsoft added the ability to download high-definition movies on demand to the console. In 2008, Microsoft added interactive TV services with BSkyB and Canal Plus. In 2009, the company added “the New Xbox Experience” with Netflix and other streaming movie services as well as social networks. Last year, it added Kinect voice controls for TV viewing, and this year, it added services such as Hulu Plus and enhanced ESPN. With the improved ESPN, which launched in August, you can see the status of friends and find out who they are expecting to win your favorite game.

On average, Xbox 360 users are watching 60 hours video entertainment per month, or two hours per day on the console. Now Xbox Live is adding 40 new entertainment platforms on a global basis.

Microsoft is rolling out the services slowly to make sure they work right. The new apps debuting on Dec. 6 are Epix in the U.S.; ESPN on Xbox Live in the U.S.; Hulu in Japan; Hulu Plus in the U.S.; Lovefilm in the United Kingdom; Premium Play by Mediaset in Italy; Netflix in the U.S.; Sky Go in Germany; and Telefónica España Movistar Imagenio in Spain.

Later in December, you’ll be able to use Xbox Live to watch 4 on Demand (C4) in the U.K.; ABC iView (Australian Broadcasting Corp.); AlloCiné. France (AlloCiné); Germany (Filmstarts); Spain (Sensacine); United Kingdom (Screenrush); Astral Media’s Disney XD (Astral Media) in Canada; Blinkbox in the U.K.; Crackle (Sony Pictures) in  Australia, Canada, U.K. and the U.S.; Dailymotion in 32 countries; Demand 5 (Five) in the U.K.; iHeartRadio (Clear Channel) in the U.S.; Mediathek/ZDF (ZDF) in Germany; MSN om Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, and the U.K.; MSNBC.com in the U.S.; MUZU.TV in Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K.; Ninemsn in Australia; Real Sports (Maple Leaf Sports) in Canada; Rogers On Demand Online (Rogers Media) in Canada; SBS On Demand in Australia; TMZ (Warner Bros.) in Canada and the U.S.; Today (MSNBC) in the U.S.; TVE (RTVE.es) in Spain; UFC on Xbox LIVE (UFC) in the U.S. and Canada; Verizon FiOS TV in the U.S.; Vevo; and Vudu; and YouTube in 24 countries.

In early 2012, the new services include Antena 3 (Antena 3 de Televisión); BBC (BBC); CinemaNow (Best Buy); DIGI+ (CANAL+) in Spain; GolTV (Mediapro) in Spain; HBO GO (HBO); MLB.TV (MLB Advanced Media); Telenovelas/Sports (Televisa); and Xfinity on Demand (Comcast).


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