Touting Xbox as the cornerstone of a "digital entertainment lifestyle," Microsoft at its Monday-night press conference showed off the expansion of its Xbox Live gaming service, Xbox Music Mixer, and XSN Sports software-with a little help from the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning.
"If we want to connect Xbox to the digital lifestyle for more people more of the time, we have to do more than deliver great games. We have to expand the definition of interactive entertainment," said Ed Fries, corporate vice president of games publishing at Microsoft. "What if you could use Xbox to mix your favorite music and digital photos, bring the experience into the living room, and share it with your friends?
That's the goal of Xbox Music Mixer, which will ship for $39.95 in time for the holidays. Users can transfer MP3s and digital photos from the PC, create their own music mixes, and then sing along with the tunes, karaoke style. "You'll be able to strip the lead vocals out of any track and sing it yourself," said J Allard, vice president of the Xbox platform.
Enhancements to Xbox Live, called Live Web and Live Alerts, will let Xbox Live players stay in contact via any Web-enabled device, said Allard. "We're going to jack you into the online universe like no other company can," he said.
The XSN Sports service will allow Xbox Live gamers to participate in virtual gaming leagues, check their stats, and be notified via cell phone when a new match is starting. "It's tapping into everything that Microsoft is doing as a company," said Fries. "Gamers can get what they want, where they want, whenever they want it."
On stage, Manning and Allard bantered a bit. "I've seen bigger arms on a chair," Manning dogged Allard.
"You got no running game-the only thing you got running is your mouth," countered Allard.
Of course, Microsoft did not forego the opportunity to show the crowd some of the promised "tons of games" upcoming for Xbox and Xbox Live. Titles such as Doom III and LucasArts' Republic Commando elicited huge responses from the audience.
"Gaming is a part of that lifestyle," said Robbie Bach, chief Xbox officer, "where people, devices, and content converge."
Microsoft closed the show out right: with a live demonstration of Bungie Studios' Joe Staten playing Halo 2. Master Chief rode shotgun in the new-and-improved Warthog, went two-fisted with weapons, and leapt onto oncoming alien vehicles in a raucous teaser that had Xbox fans salivating.