A week after Microsoft and Verizon announced that FiOS channels are coming to the Xbox 360, the software giant is unleashing more apps to allow TV viewing online via the hit gaming console.
As of Tuesday, Dec. 6, Xbox Live subscribers in the U.S. will be able to watch EPIX, ESPN, Hulu Plus and the Today show on MSNBC, the partnership channel between Microsoft and NBC.
Customers in Japan will get Hulu, while German viewers will have Sky Go, United Kingdom viewers will have LOVEFiLM and Italian viewers will be able to watch Premium Play. Spanish Xbox users can watch Telefonica Espana. Netflix, available already to U.S. users, will be accessible in Canada as well.
'More Social and Personal'
Twenty-seven more channels will debut later this month. For U.S. users, they include iHeartRadio, Sony Pictures' Crackle, more programming from MSNBC and Wal-Mart's Vudu movie rental service. YouTube will be available in 24 countries, and more programming, including content from HBO and Xfinity, will debut in 2012.
Together with the Kinect voice and motion control system and the Bing search engine to find and select programs, Microsoft hopes the Xbox will transform the way consumers aggregate their entertainment.
"A new era in entertainment begins where all your entertainment is together in one place: your games, movies, TV shows, music and sports," said Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. "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."
The announcement is a landmark because media companies have been slow to allow their content to stream on the Internet and away from airwaves, where advertising rates still command the highest rates.
"Microsoft is moving aggressively to extend its network of TV and online video partners, improve search with voice and gesture controls, and make the Xbox 360 more compelling," said Sam Rosen, a senior digital home analyst with ABI Research.
Still, Rosen considers the new Xbox features "evolutionary and not revolutionary."
He notes that it's a step away from free TV via the Internet because much of the content will require Xbox Live Gold membership, which starts at $5.00 per month.
"Most of these content features sit behind the Xbox Live paywall, so it's another annual subscription fee hitting your credit card," he said. "Many of the offerings -- Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, Sky Go, etc -- are available on other platforms, i.e., Samsung or Sony Connected TVs or Blu-ray players."
Channel-Surfing, Old School
Rosen also said Kinect has a way to go before it replaces your handy remote control.
"While Siri has shown what a well-designed voice control system can do, the Kinect remote control, in our experience, has proved less effective," Rosen said. "For gesture controls, not everyone's living room has the ideal spacing of 6 to 8 feet to work well. For voice controls, it may need a remote control/microphone integration to really get past noise and distance issues and work well."
Average consumers, used to surfing TV with buttons, may be initially reluctant, Rosen said.
"To make a change in users' behaviors is going to take a good amount of time, or a compelling experience much like the shift to touchscreens on cell phones," he said.