Microsoft prepares major update for Xbox 360 console

Xbox screenshot Bing on the Xbox lets people find all the games, movies and TV shows related to keywords

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The BBC iPlayer will be added to the Xbox in 2012 as Microsoft tries to centre its console on entertainment rather than just games.

The big update to support this change will start hitting Xbox 360 consoles around the world on 6 December.

Microsoft has signed up 40 media firms to provide both live and on-demand movie and TV services for the console.

The update also lets people control their TVs by talking into the Kinect motion-spotting gadgets.

Mainstream media

The most noticeable change made by the update will be to swap the Xbox's familiar tabbed interface for the so-called Metro look that is based around "tiles".

This uses square and oblong tiles that sit under different menu headings which lump together media and content relevant to that category. For instance, tiles under the "social" menu give access to Twitter, Facebook and Kinect video calls.

Nokia Lumia The blocky "tiled" look from Windows Phone 7 will be reflected on the Xbox interface

The Metro interface is also expected to be the default for Windows 8 when that debuts in late 2012.

Microsoft's Bing search engine is also being rolled out to the Xbox and it will be able to search for anything available on any of the tiles. Kinect owners will be able to use their voice to make queries.

As well as live TV programmes, other on-demand services will be made available via tiles under the "Apps" menu. Only Gold members of Xbox Live will be able to access them.

About 35 million of the 57 million Xbox consoles around the world are connected to Xbox Live.

From 6 December in the UK, Amazon's movie streaming service Lovefilm will be available through the Xbox.

Later in the month it will be joined by other on-demand services including 4OD, Blinkbox and Sony's Crackle. The iPlayer will be available via an Xbox Live app from early 2012.

Sky TV services are already available on the console. Microsoft does not mention ITV in its press release.

Competition

Gold Members of Xbox Live will also get access to a cloud-based service that mirrors their profile and logs which games they own. This means they will be able to use any Xbox 360 via their gamertag.

"This is now the benchmark against which all other living room initiatives should be compared," said James McQuivey of Forrester Research.

Mr McQuivey said the Kinect should help Microsoft differentiate the Xbox from rivals such as cable TV firms, Google, Apple and others who piped content through set-top boxes.

Talking to a TV would build a "new bridge" between people and what they wanted to watch, he said. It should make it easier for people to get at novel content and services in the future, he added.

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