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A Box within a Xbox

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As of yesterday, Microsoft began upgrading Xbox Live product, and will continue to do so for the remainder of this month. The upgrading taking place will allow Xbox Live users to access an online entertainment service, filled with a variety of television shows and movies – nothing too spectacular right? Well what if I told you that Xbox Live users will also be able to search for and select shows with voice commands and hand movements via the Xbox Kinect?

Of course, users will have the option to simply select their desired content with their Xbox 360 controllers as well, but this new feature is sure to attract users in the future. As Microsoft continues to build this online library for users to access, they will also be adding other major sources of programming such as Xfinity, HBO and Verizon FiOS. Up until now, the television capabilities of the Xbox 360 has been fairly limited by Microsoft with the most popular video services including Netflix, Hulu Plus and ESPN. These services will still be offered to Xbox Live users, but this new upgrade will undoubtedly take the content viewing capabilities of the Xbox 360 to new heights.

While it may seem plausible to ditch your old cable box completely, the deal that Microsoft and these cable providers have agreed to does not allow customers to do that. In order to have access to this online entertainment database, you must have a traditional cable contract with one of these providers and then pay the $60/year for a Xbox Live Gold membership. Users should also be mindful that during the early stages of this upgrade, a majority of the shows they are used to accessing via their cable box may not be available on Xbox Live because of the negotiating that is necessary in deciding the content rights within these deals.

Clearly, this innovative idea, that Microsoft has begun implementing, is not a favorable choice for the consumer that is on a tight budget. But for those that will be able to afford the luxury of a cable contract and the Xbox Live Gold membership, they will be be the first to utilize the impressive voice control technology that the Xbox Kinect has with these new services. The majority of Xbox players would not hesitate to tell you that typing out searches and messages with the traditional Xbox 360 controller is somewhat of a hassle and can be time consuming. Early tests of the Kinect’s voice control technology have been very successful and shown that this feature will be very useful to users of the online entertainment services.

For Microsoft and the Xbox, this is just another step towards developing a gaming system that can do it all. In fact, with the many luxuries that the Xbox 360 now has in store for its millions of users, you could say that Microsoft is taking the same approach towards their gaming system that many other technology companies have towards their smart phones – including Apple. The ability of Microsoft to develop the Xbox 360 into a device that is capable of so much more than just gaming is relatively similar to the ecosystem that Apple pioneered within many of its devices. With this upgrade in process, Xbox users can now stream music, movies, television, download game demos, store their own personal music, videos and pictures and even access their Facebook and Twitter accounts. This new service will also increase the perceived value of the Xbox Live Gold membership that has become quite expensive for the traditional gaming uses. But with all of these new built features that are accessible right from the Xbox, $60/year suddenly seems like a bargain.

On the other hand, Cable companies such as Verizon and Comcast are sure to have mixed feelings about this deal with Microsoft. Yes, it is another way to receive revenue from their services via these contracts, but at the same time this new feature exposes the fact that gaming systems are not far from becoming the singular device that users will need to access everything they want on their television – where does that leave these cable companies? Of course they will continue to stay in business as the two largest cable operators in the nation, but it will be interesting to see if Microsoft does not re-negotiate this contract in the future to allow users to use the Xbox 360 as their prime cable box as well. If something along those lines were to happen, the cable companies, and their suppliers, would be sure to lose millions of dollars in revenue.

Regardless of what plans Microsoft may have for the future uses and capabilities of the Xbox 360, for now it seems that users are currently receiving a fantastic product for a reasonable price – let’s hope it stays that way.

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