Microsoft Touts Xbox 360 Worldwide Sales Dominance, Announces New Content Partnerships

During the E3 keynote in which Microsoft Ushered in their vision for the future of entertainment, the company also proudly pointed out that the Xbox 360 has gone beyond being the top-selling console in North America to having its foot on the throats of Sony and Nintendo worldwide. Now, their global reign didn’t just begin this month; not only was the Xbox 360 the best-selling console of 2011, but Xbox yearly sales surpassed that of the PS3 and Wii back in February, so it seems that the king of the living room is only maintaining its worldwide sales reign.

Today’s announcements of SmartGlass, Xbox Music, Internet Explorer on Xbox, and numerous hit titles should only act to bolster sales. Microsoft is rightfully pretty enthused about it:

“Xbox is on a mission to make the entertainment that you love even more amazing,” said Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. “With Xbox SmartGlass, we are lighting up entertainment across your phone, tablet, PC and TV in a completely new way. If you love to play games, watch TV and movies, surf the Web, or listen to music, there has never been a better time to be on Xbox.”

Microsoft has also announced a multitude of new media partnerships and content that will be coming to the Xbox within the next 12 months. Here are 35 such partnerships that the company announced today:

Absolute Radio (U.K.), Ameba TV (Canada, U.S.), BreakMedia (Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, Singapore, South Africa, U.K., U.S.), Comedy Central Stand Up (U.S.), Comoyo (Denmark, Norway, Sweden), Corus Entertainment’s Franklin the Turtle (Canada), GameSpot TV (Australia, Canada, U.K., U.S.), Headweb (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden), Indie Flix (U.S.), Machinima (All Xbox LIVE markets), Napster (Germany, U.K.), Nickelodeon (U.S.), Paramount Movies (U.S.), Picturebox (U.K), Quickflix (Australia, New Zealand), Rakuten ShowTime (Japan), Revision3 (Canada, U.K., U.S.), Rhapsody (U.S.), RTL XL (Netherlands), Slacker Radio (Canada, U.S.), SnagFilms (U.S.) Terra Sunday TV (Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico), The AOL On Network (Australia, Canada, Netherlands, U.K., U.S.), The Weather Channel (U.S.), The Whistle (U.S.), TOU.TV (Canada), TV3 (Spain), Twitch TV (U.S.), Univision (U.S.), Wuaki (Spain), and Youzee (Spain).

And for you sport fans, Microsoft has the following content providers in store for you:

  • NBA Game Time with NBA.com League Pass Broadband (U.S.) and NBA League Pass (outside of the U.S.). Fans who subscribe to NBA.com League Pass Broadband will have access to hundreds of out of market live games (blackout restrictions apply in the U.S. and some international markets), plus highlights from around the league and up to the minute stats of your favorite players.
  • NHL GameCenter LIVE™ (Worldwide except Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden). Hockey fans will be able to enjoy every moment of the live action as it happens on the ice, with live games (out-of-market and blackout restrictions apply), more in-game interactivity, and replays and highlights on demand any time.
  • ESPN (U.S.). Later this year fans will enjoy 24/7 live programming through WatchESPN from ESPN Networks – ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3 and ESPN U. All the favorites, including “SportsCenter,” “SportsNation,” “The Mike and Mike Show,” as well as ESPN’s coverage of the NFL, MLB and the NBA, will be live on Xbox.

In conclusion, Kinect voice search will be expanding to 12 additional countries: Australia, Austria, Brazil, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and Switzerland. It’s definitely been a big day for the Xbox. Stay tuned as we delve further into today’s various announcements from the Xbox E3 keynote.

Image Source: Josh Ferris (Flickr)

With Amazon Instant Video and More, Is Xbox 360 the Center of Your Entertainment?

Amazon has announced the launch of the Instant Video app for Xbox 360 that gives customers access to movies and TV episodes on their console. Xbox Live Gold members who also are subscribed to the Amazon Prime service can now access over 17,000 movies and TV episodes from Amazon. If you don’t have the Amazon Prime subscription, you can purchase any streaming video content and watch it on your Xbox 360 console.

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Download the Amazon Instant Video application from the Apps section of the Xbox dashboard. Once in the Amazon Instant Video application, sign in using your Amazon credentials and instantly watch the videos you want. While you can shop the Amazon Instant Video store from the web on a PC, Mac or tablet, you can’t do that from the console! Bummer, yes. Buying and renting movies directly on your Xbox 360 is not currently supported, although, anything you buy or rent will appear in Your Video Library on your Xbox 360.

The app includes a new Watchlist feature, similar to Netflix Queue, that lets you manage your queue and purchased content in a playlist from your computer. The app is Kinect-enabled, and you can use gesture or voice commands for the navigation through the app. Amazon’s WhisperSync feature that makes reading on Kindle devices and mobile/desktop apps seamless finds a neat, similar use in the app. You can start a video on one device and continue it from the same point on a second device like a Kindle Fire.

Xbox has become the center of entertainment offerings from Microsoft (Farewell Zune?). Microsoft has been building content partnerships progressively bringing the HBO Go app and Xfinity On Demand app to Xbox 360. The brand also enjoys a favorable buzz in the industry, unlike the often-messed up Windows Live or Zune, and the unification of entertainment options under the Xbox umbrella might just give Microsoft the right impetus for the next generation of Windows and Windows Phone.

Sennheiser Launches Xbox Gaming Headsets in India

Sennheiser has finally launched the internationally acclaimed and popular Xbox gaming headsets in India. These first ever headsets from Sennheiser specifically designed for Xbox have been honored with the 2012 Red Dot Design award. The Sennheiser gaming headsets – X320 and X2 – assist gamers in not just great audio experience but also communicating effectively with teammates or opponents. The headsets include features specifically developed for Xbox gaming and are backed by a worldwide warranty of two years.

Sennheiser X320

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Priced at INR 7,990, the Sennheiser X320 has an outstanding open-acoustic design with their patented CircleFlex ear cups and is very comfortable when worn for hours of gaming as you indulge in a mission in Call of Duty. The amplified stereo sound boosts the Xbox 360’s audio experience while the pro-noise cancelling microphone ensures that only the gamer’s voice is heard. The headset comes with an interesting feature that allows gamers to mute the microphone by raising just the boom eliminating the need for buttons.

Sennheiser X2

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If you are looking for an economical option, the Sennheiser X2 is priced at INR 1,790. The headset offers a great gaming experience and is very lightweight, although durable. The audio experience is uncompromised with precise speakers and noise cancelling microphones for an easy and effective communication with teammates or opponents.

Kinect-Enabled Internet Explorer Coming To Xbox 360

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 stopped being just a gaming console some time back. Ever since, the console has been Microsoft’s ticket into the living room. Earlier today, Peter Kafka writing for AllThingsD covered a report that says Xbox 360 is the most used device other than a PC for viewing videos. (Xbox 28%, iPad comes a close second with 27%.) Cable companies like Comcast are now working with Microsoft on offering cable content through the console.

When news about a $99 Xbox/Kinect bundled came out, I categorically stated that Apple TV and Google TV are a long way from stealing any marketshare from Microsoft in the living room. Going further, Tom Warren at the Verge is reporting that Microsoft is expected to bring feature-full Internet browsing on the Xbox 360 using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Google has Chrome powering the Internet browsing experience on their Google TV platform. According to Tom’s sources, Microsoft is currently testing a version of IE9. It is highly likely that the Metro based Internet Explorer 10 available in Windows 8 will be available on the Xbox 360.

The other interesting tidbit Tom got was that this version of Internet Explorer for Xbox will support Kinect gestures. Thinking about browsing the web with arms and hands does scare me a little, I’ll end up tiring myself going through Facebook, but then again, I will be able to say that I am doing upper-body workout while browsing the Internet. Rumors suggested that Apple will be bringing Siri integration to an Apple branded TV set, if this were to happen, Microsoft isn’t far behind. The company already has voice commands through the Kinect. Turning this into a personal assistant is missing from Microsoft’s implementation of voice commands, but for the company it isn’t rocket science.

Meanwhile, I still believe, an Xbox 360 with Kinect is the best living room entertainment device.

Subsidized $99 Xbox 360 & Kinect Bundle Official

Last month we covered a story that Microsoft is expected to introduce a $99 Xbox 360 and Kinect on a 2 year contract. The details back then were that this will be an addition to Microsoft’s Xbox line up. Today, Microsoft confirmed that they are indeed bringing a bundle at the price but as of now it is just a Microsoft Store promotion.

The bundle comes with a 2 year Xbox LIVE Gold subscription at $15 a month contract and can only be purchased from a brick & mortar Microsoft Store. While this does seem like a lucrative deal at $15 a month and just $99 as upfront cost, the math suggests in the long run, you end up paying a little more. The current deal is in all likelihood a test run for a cheaper version of the next Xbox. It is quite clear that Microsoft wants everyone to own an Xbox 360 irrespective of them owning an iPad, iPhone, PC or Mac. The technology battle has moved to living room entertainment and compared to both Google and Apple, Microsoft has a huge lead. The details of the $99 Xbox & Kinect bundle are:

What a deal

How to redeem this offer

  • Sign up for 2 year subscription to Xbox Live Gold Membership* at $14.99 per month and receive a 4GB Xbox 360 with Kinect for $99.
  • Promotional offer (Microsoft may terminate this Offer at any time).
In case you wish to opt out of the contract, you can by paying an Early Termination Fee depending on when you decide to terminate the contract.

Subsidized Xbox Bundle vs. Outright Purchase, The Math

Earlier today news broke that Microsoft is planning to come up with a subsidized model for the Xbox 360. If Tom Warren reporting for The Verge is right, you will be able to pick up a 4GB Xbox 360 and Kinect just for priced it at $99 in a 2 year contract. A genius strategy since It’s the price of a Roku box and of an Apple TV.

The Xbox 360 is the leading gaming console in the market. It has been consistently selling more units than Sony’s PlayStation 3. There is no reason for anyone to buy an Apple TV. The device from Apple has failed miserably for the company despite being in the business for a while. Xbox 360 on the other hand has lined up several services including a deal with Comcast. Here’s what Microsoft’s plans are:

  • $99 Xbox 360 & Kinect
  • 2 year contract for $15 a month
  • Xbox LIVE Gold subscription & some other services included in the $15

It is the last part that will turn out to be the factor why this deal will be worth it and why this model will succeed. However here’s some Math:

The subsidized Xbox 360 bundle: 99+(15*24)=$450

Standalone: 199+149+(59*2)=$466 (Xbox 360, Kinect, Xbox LIVE Gold for 2 years)

4GB Xbox 360 & Kinect bundle: 300+(59*2)=$418

On Amazon: 280+(49*2)=$378 (bundle for $280 & Xbox LIVE Gold 1 year subscription for $48)

So the Math says buying the bundle with Xbox LIVE subscription on Amazon you get a better value. However, as @karelj and @theromit point out, the subsidized model with a small monthly payment will attract a lot of people, the $99 upfront cost will be very enticing to many. A while back I suggested that Microsoft’s motto of a desktop on every desk has now evolved into an Xbox in every living room. At $99, it’ll happen.

Microsoft Might Launch A Subsidized $99 Xbox 360 + Kinect + LIVE Gold Bundle

According to The Verge, Microsoft will be offering a subsidized Xbox bundle that includes a $99 4GB Xbox, an Xbox LIVE Gold subscription, and a Kinect sensor, on top of additional streaming content from cable providers. Users will be able to purchase this entire bundle at the low cost of $15 a month, for two years. This is actually a pretty smart move; it’s clear that Microsoft wants to give itself an edge against the PS3 and Apple TV as an entertainment device in the living room, and a payment plan like this makes it a more affordable option for many.

As you can see, it’s definitely an interesting deal, and the difference in cost between buying at a subsidized price vs. buying outright at a local store is only slightly less or more  (a total of around $420 for the duration of the two years.) So, you do not need to get ointment for your rear; Microsoft is not screwing you with this offer.

Now of course, this also doesn’t take into account price drops that may occur as we inch closer towards the release date of the next Xbox, but it’s still a pretty good deal. Those who take advantage of it will also be covered under a two-year warranty as well.

Microsoft Seeking Skype For Xbox Software Engineer

Ever since Microsoft acquired Skype last year, there has been speculation that the company was going to bring Skype to the Xbox. And a new job posting on Microsoft Careers that Enconnected spotted pretty much confirms that this is the case. The listing is seeking a Software Engineer to join a dedicated Skype Xbox Engineering team in London, particularly one who has a great startup mentality:

Skype is seeking a motivated Software Engineer with an unrelenting drive for working on and solving customer-based issues. As a member of the Skype Xbox Engineering Team in London, you will have a strong technical background developing client and/or embedded software. Success in this role will likely be driven by your technical understanding, passion for shipping product, a user focus and an Agile approach to software development. The ideal candidate loves software and has a passion for writing code that addresses real customer issues and needs.

We didn’t exactly need confirmation that Skype was headed to the Xbox; ever since the acquisition, it was kind of a given that Microsoft would try to bring Skype to all of its products for the most part. Microsoft has already brought Skype to the Windows Phone in the form of a beta, but it could use quite a fair bit of work. For example, you cannot leave a call running in the background while performing actions on the device.

Xbox Continues Sales Reign Despite Fledging Console Sales

Even though video game hardware sales figures have been diminishing quite considerably as of late– sales of video game hardware hit $323.5 million this month, a staggering 35% drop from March 2011 — the Xbox is continuing to maintain the top console sales spot for a 15th consecutive month. Last month, 371,000 Xboxes were sold, making the console account for 42% of console sales. Spending on Xbox hardware AND software also hot $430 million, which is greater than both PS3 and Wii sales put together.

“Hardware really slowed down this month and all systems saw a unit sales decline versus last March, and on an average sales per week basis, versus February 2012,” NPD analyst Anita Frazier said in a statement. “That said, the high definition console systems fared better than many other hardware platforms.”

It’s interesting how gaming sales are slowing down; are the casual gamers out there — the bulk of the population — getting their gaming fix from a new breed of device? Are mobile phones and tablets beginning to take a bite out of the console pie? While I still don’t think that gaming on iOS and Android has evolved to a point where it can serve as a replacement for console gaming just yet, it is nevertheless an interesting thing to keep an eye on.

 

Epic Cancels Gears of War: Exile

Epic Games has cancelled Gears of War: Exile, Epic’s rumoured upcoming game for the Xbox 360. Speaking to Gamespot, Epic Games Design Director Cliff Bleszinski mentioned that the studio has ceased working on the game.

Quoting Cliff

Let’s just bury the hatchet now. Gears of War: Exile was an unannounced game that I can’t give any details about that has since been cancelled.

Gears of War:Exile was rumoured to be unveiled at E3 2011, with Epic Games having even gone to the extent of trademarking “Gears of War: Exile”. However, since then, very little has been known about the game, apart from rumours of it being a Kinect-supported rails shooter.

Cliff’s statement indicates a certain amount of frustration about it being canned, and we can only wonder what was the real reason for it being shelved.