- Xbox Live update promises an all-in-one device for TV viewing
- Apps, including content from 40 new partners, will improve TV and video, Microsoft says
- Xbox 360's Kinect system will let users surf channels through voice control and gestures
- There are 57 million Xbox 360s sold and 35 million users connected to Xbox Live
An update rolling out Tuesday for the Xbox Live network aims to do what Microsoft has been teasing for a while -- turn a platform designed primarily for video games into one that will be the major hub for all television viewing.
Microsoft promises the update, which it calls "the future of TV," can "transform every Xbox 360 into an all-in-one device to enjoy your entertainment."
"The update is another huge step toward realizing our vision of bringing you all your entertainment, shared with the people you care about, in an easy way," Marc Whitten, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Xbox Live, wrote on the official Microsoft blog.
The Xbox was the first gaming console to include Netflix and has since added entertainment partners such as ESPN, Hulu Plus, AT&T U-verse and last.fm. But Microsoft, hoping a bevy of new apps will up the ante, is adding content from 40 new partners while making existing content easier to view.
One of the free update's key new features will be a voice-control interface that will let users retrieve videos, television channels, games or other content simply by asking for it.
The feature combines the Xbox 360's hands-free Kinect system with technology from Microsoft's Bing search engine to hunt down the content. Primarily billed as a gaming tool, Kinect uses a 3-D video camera and voice recognition to let the user interact with the TV screen without a controller.
The new partners, or updated apps, to be unveiled Tuesday include content from ESPN, Hulu, Netflix and MSNBC in the United States. In the coming weeks and months, Xbox will add YouTube, Best Buy's CinemaNow, HBO Go, Major League Baseball and Comcast's Xfinity On Demand. Time Warner, HBO's parent company, also owns CNN.
Microsoft said the update will also add social features, from voting on who you think will win the big game to tools letting you notify friends when you're tackling a multiplayer game they can join.
At a time when technology heavyweights such as Apple and Google are trying to gain footholds in the interactive TV market, some analysts are saying Microsoft has become the player to beat.
"Microsoft has just built and delivered it: A single box that ties together all the content you want, made easily accessible through a universal, natural, voice-directed search," wrote James McQuivey of Forrester Research. "This is now the benchmark against which all other living room initiatives should be compared."
With 57 million Xbox 360s already in folks' living rooms, and 35 million of them connected to Xbox Live, McQuivey predicts that adoption of the new features "will spread quickly and with devastating effect."