Microsoft woos TV deals

Microsoft is closer to turning Xbox into the everything box.

Sticking with a strategy to promote the Xbox 360 console as more than just a videogame player, Microsoft used its pre-E3 presser on Monday to reveal that the device will start offering live TV in the U.S. and integrate YouTube and search engine Bing as part of a relaunch this fall.

Those will join services like Netflix, Hulu, Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm and other entertainment options that have gradually been added to Xbox Live. Microsoft relies on

them to help the Xbox 360 stand out from rivals like Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s PlayStation 3.

Microsoft is redesigning the Xbox Live interface to include the new services that will all be controlled through Kinect, the motion- and voice-controlled system that Microsoft started selling last year.

Through Bing, users will be able to call out the name of an entertainment property then be shown all of the various forms it can be accessed on the individual’s Xbox and across the Web — whether it’s a TV show, movie, Web series or game to rent or buy, for example.

The result could easily provide the answer content creators have been looking for to get their titles in front of more consumers, especially as digital sales become a larger source of revenue for Hollywood.

One drawback of the move to digital has been the fear that content will get lost in the electronic ether and will force distributors to boost their marketing budgets.

But “Bing will make it easier to locate what you want or might be interested in checking out,” said Marc Whitten, corporate VP of Microsoft’s Xbox Live division.

The delay in incorporating Bing (owned by Microsoft) and YouTube into Xbox Live until now was primarily because the company wanted to “get the technology out of your way” and create versions of the software that could be voice controlled and not need a remote, Whitten said.

“The challenge is always about solving simplicity,” Whitten said.

Rollout of live TV had been expected for some time, especially since Xbox has been testing such services in the U.K., Australia and France through Sky TV, Foxtel and Canal Plus.

Microsoft was short on details of just how live TV will be offered in the fall (it has yet to announce a partner with a cabler or satcaster). But in a demo on Monday, the live-TV option included a DVR feature, which would easily incorporate the Xbox 360’s built-in harddrive. Previous demos of the Sky-based service manipulated live TV like a TiVo.

“This is the year that live television comes to Xbox 360 as we partner with leading television providers, both here in the U.S. and around the world,” Whitten said. “This is our vision of the future of television.”

Either way, offering more entertainment should help move more Xbox 360s into living rooms and appeal to nongamers. There are now more than 55 million consoles set up in homes, with Xbox Live claiming more than 35 million subscribers.

None of this signals that Xbox is moving away from games, however.

On the contrary, Microsoft stepped up to steal away some of Nintendo’s core family biz by unveiling “Kinect Disneyland Adventures,” a game that faithfully recreates the Mouse House’s theme park and creates mini-interactive games based on its rides.

Another title aimed at the kids is the Sesame Street-branded “Once Upon a Monster,” that stars Elmo and Cookie Monster leading a series of games for use with the Kinect.

Tykes will have to take away control of the Xbox 360 from their older siblings or parents, however, who will gravitate to “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” the high-profile follow-up to last year’s blockbuster, out in November, as well as “Gears of War 3,” a reboot of “Tomb Raider” and racer “Forza Motorsport 4.”

Microsoft also announced two new “Halo” titles — a remade version of the original “Halo: Combat Evolved,” that will upgrade the original’s graphics for its 10th anni this November. Also, company formally unveiled “Halo 4″ — the beginning of an all-new trilogy that will feature the series’ hero Master Chief. (Game is skedded for November 2012).

It’s also doubling down on unveiling more uses for Kinect in games.

“Ryse,” a title from “Crysis” developers Crytek, will use the motion sensor to let players control a Roman Centurian in battles. “Mass Effect 3,” “Fable: The Journey” and “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier” will incorporate elements of its functionality into the game, using voice recognition to make dialogue choices and shout out battle commands, while using movements to cast spells and control weapons.

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