Microsoft’s ambitions for the Xbox have never been secret, nor have they been quiet: Microsoft wants to own living room entertainment. The Xbox 360 was never, from its inception, only a gaming machine for Microsoft. It was a device intended to grow Xbox Live, which would in turn grow its premium television offerings. It was the first living room device to offer Netflix streaming, and it remains the only one where customers have to pay extra to access it. It’s brought on former television executives to make new content. It’s demoed its own streaming television services. There have even been rumblings that Microsoft would officially partner with cable providers like Comcast and Verizon beyond the limited TV offerings like Xfinity and FiOS already available.
Now it’s time for the next phase of Microsoft’s attempt to conquer the living room: The Next Xbox.
According to sources speaking with The Verge, the Xbox 360’s successor has more in common with a set top box like the ambitious but disappointing Google TV than it does Sony’s PlayStation 4. In fact, the reason the Next Xbox will require a persistent Internet connection to use – one of its more controversial rumored features – is so that the machine can maintain a constant connection to TV signals from cable and satellite providers.
By using an HDMI cable with the new console, cable box signals will go directly into the Next Xbox, putting a Microsoft-specific user interface over current television channels or a set top box’s own user interface. While this is functionally similar to Google TV, and much like a more advanced version of the Nintendo TVii service associated with Nintendo’s Wii U, Microsoft’s set top box features will be bolstered by partnerships with content providers. Unlike those other companies, Microsoft has many pre-established television content partnerships with companies like Comcast subsidiary NBC, Viacom, Disney, and others.
Even the next generation Kinect will more closely integrate with TV watching. The Verge’s source said that the new Kinect will actually pause shows when it senses that eyes have looked away from the screen. Which is terrifying.
This information certainly lines up with Microsoft’s recent public actions. The Mediaroom IPTV business opened in 2007 was sold on Monday to Ericsson. Meanwhile Microsoft recently kicked off a major new recruitment drive under the banner, “What if Xbox was your only box?”
“Xbox isn’t just for hardcore gamers anymore,” reads Microsoft’s recruitment page, “It’s the center of a whole entertainment ecosystem that goes way beyond the living room. Music, movies, social and games converge and become accessible across any device, anywhere, and that’s just the beginning. We are revolutionizing entertainment right now.”