Microsoft is always trying to stay on top, and it’s doing one heck of a job.
Last week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer previewed a new television feature for Xbox 360 at an event called BUILD in Anaheim, Calif.
The company is now inching its way into the realm of cable and satellite television through the Xbox 360.
In June, Microsoft confirmed its plans to incorporate a live-television feature into its Xbox LIVE service later this year. According to rumors and vague press releases, the feature will require owners to have subscription services to compatible cable or satellite providers and will also include on-demand access for instant programming needs.
Though the ability to watch live television via Xbox LIVE is innovative and cost-efficient, the console already offers multiple access points for instant entertainment through its streaming services for Netflix, Hulu Plus and ESPN.
With this addition of live programming, the Xbox 360 tests our notions of exactly how to define video game consoles in this decade.
Besides altering the Xbox to become more of a “do-it-all” piece of technology, how will Microsoft truly improve the average viewer’s television experience?
The answer is simple: By capitalizing on futuristic, voice-activated technology.
The live-television accessory has garnered considerable interest with its addition of a voice-control feature, which will theoretically use viewers’ oral commands to search for and select television programs via its Kinect accessory.
The feature utilizes Microsoft’s Bing search engine and is intended to simplify the tedious process of mashing buttons on your remote control. It will search across Netflix, Hulu and live TV, making it an extraordinarily convenient and sophisticated option.
Voice features, such as those on cell phones, aren’t necessarily the most impressive technological advancements we’ve made in the past decade or so. But Microsoft is working hard to make this feature a success and, judging from its future endeavors, there’s a good chance that will happen.
In addition to the live-television streaming, by the end of this year, Microsoft will be releasing a mega update to its Xbox 360 dashboard.
The dashboard, or the user interface for the Xbox 360, is named Twist Control and will include a Bing search engine that employs the Kinect with improved voice functionality. Other upcoming features include the option of “cloud storage,” the ability to save to an online database rather than an individual memory card, as well as better Facebook connectivity.
The overhaul of Microsoft’s dashboard fits nicely with the company’s plans to introduce live-television streaming. Each of these business moves is a way for Microsoft to capitalize on and market the Xbox 360’s universal functionality. This isn’t a surprising step for the company, especially when about 40 percent of the console’s activity is non-gaming-related.
After all, in today’s world, video game consoles are hardly used only for video games. Microsoft’s recent decisions prove the standard notion of a “game console” is slowly but surely shifting into this idea of an “entertainment platform.” People don’t just want video games or television anymore — they want it all. And they want it as cheap and convenient as they can get it.
Interestingly, when it comes to this constant renovating, the Xbox 360 still lacks a fairly basic feature: Blu-ray support.
Despite the fact Sony’s PlayStation 3 has had it for some time now, the move on Microsoft’s part is clearly purposeful and doesn’t mean the company is stingy or falling behind. Microsoft has stated that it doesn’t acknowledge any pressing need to include Blu-ray compatibility as long as the Xbox 360 has fully functional, digital-streaming capability.
Even if Microsoft has a few kinks to work out with its upcoming dashboard and live-television service, there’s no doubt these additions will lure a variety of customers. The Xbox 360 is still primarily a video game console, but even that term is beginning to sound outdated when you really look at what the technology has to offer.
Hannah Muniz is a junior double majoring in East Asian languages and cultures and creative writing. Her column “Game Over” runs Wednesdays.