On the eve of the E3 video game conference, Microsoft unveiled a number of new initiatives related to its Xbox 360 console. But while many of these initiatives were game-related, as you might expect, the more interesting ones had nothing to do with gaming at all.
"This E3 is about breaking down barriers, between generations, between games and entertainment, and most importantly, between video game players and everyone else, in a way that only Xbox 360 can," Microsoft Senior Vice President Don Mattrick said.
There were plenty of video game–related announcements, though none were hugely unexpected. Microsoft showed off a vaporware "full body controller" code-named Project Natal (which doesn't even have a name let alone a release date), and it seems to be directed squarely at fans of the motion-sensing Nintendo Wii controller. Microsoft admits that it won't ship anytime soon.
The company also touted an upcoming collection of new Xbox 360 video games, virtually all of which are sequels or add-ons to existing games. These include new entries in the Halo, Gears of War, Call of Duty, Crackdown, and Forza series, among others. One such sequel, Rock Band: The Beatles, will bring the music of the Fab Four to Microsoft's console. Surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr appeared at Microsoft's E3 keynote to promote the title.
Of more interest, perhaps, is Microsoft's effort to push the Xbox 360 beyond the video game crowd, though of course the company has been working this market since the console's inception. As previously announced, Microsoft is replacing the Xbox 360's Video Marketplace interface with one now branded as Zune, though the actual interface, surprisingly, isn't changing much, if at all. What is new is that the Xbox 360 will be delivering "instant, on-demand" 1080p HD movies and TV shows with 5.1 surround sound to those customers who have fast enough Internet connections. This service will start in the Fall, Microsoft says.
Microsoft is also adding Facebook and Twitter compatibility to the Xbox 360 via Xbox Live, so that users can keep up with their friends. The company is also allowing Xbox 360 users to stream music from the last.fm service. "This expands the reach of Xbox Live," Microsoft Vice President Shane Kim says. "We have had an effort of making Xbox Live a next-generation social and entertainment network."
I will have broader coverage of Microsoft's E3 announcements available later today on the SuperSite for Windows