Microsoft is using its Xbox 360 gaming console to produce the kind of TV experience long rumoured to be a key part of Apple’s iTV, nearly a year ahead of its rival.
Microsoft today announced that a software update to its Xbox 360 gaming console will allow users to browse and watch films online with a voice activated and gesture based motion through the Xbox’s add-on Kinect peripheral.
In Walter Isaacson’s biography of the late Apple CEO and founder, Steve Jobs says: "I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."
The US patent office published a filing by Apple for "real time video process control using gestures". It describes a system that would use infrared, motion and other sensors to read the user’s movements. Gestures could edit video, or "throw" it from one device to another, says The Guardian.
Japanese firm Sharp has been asked to begin commercial production of Apple TV screens in February, with the sets available in the second half of 2012.
Microsoft appear to have finally jumped ahead of their bitter rivals by integrating much of this functionality into the Xbox 360 already. The Xbox 360’s Kinect is a webcam-style add-on that enables users to control and interact without the need to touch a game controller using gestures and spoken commands. Microsoft launched Kinect this time last year, and a Windows 7 desktop version is due in Early 2012.
"With this update, Xbox 360 system owners will experience Kinect voice control integrated with Bing search, making your TV and entertainment experiences more social and personal than ever." Said Don Mattrick president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business.
While streaming movies, music and internet surfing is nothing new on the current generation of video game consoles, voice and gesture based interaction is.
At launch UK users have Amazon’s Lovefilm, followed by 4ondemand, BlinkBox, AlloCine, Dailymotion, Demand 5, Muzu.TV, Vevo and YouTube later this month, but not iTV. The BBC will be available in early 2012. This will include HD versions, streamed or downloaded to the console.
Most interesting is the addition of Sony’s Crackle TV service. The console’s battle with the rival Playstation 3, made by Sony, has usually seen dedicated Sony products made unavailable for Xbox.
Microsoft is also planning to integrate it with its Windows Phone products which it has started producing with Nokia. This will enable Windows Phone and the upcoming Windows 8 phones to be used as remotes for the service.
The new mobile devices will also run Xbox Live, Microsoft’s online gaming platform. This will allow users to browse for content on their smartphones, chat to friends friends online, and get more information on the movie as it plays.