Again with the surfing-the-Internet-in-the-living-room thing?
Fifteen years after it paid $425 million to buy WebTV, Microsoft on Monday announced several new features for its seven-year-old Xbox 360(s MSFT) gaming platform aimed at letting users access the web on their big-screen TV.
Also read: Amazon’s video services launch on Xbox 360
Starting this fall, the company will launch a version of its popular Internet Explorer web browser for Xbox, which will be available in the U.S. and other markets featuring Microsoft’s Xbox Live entertainment programming services. This will be accompanied by the separate but complimentary introduction of a new app, Xbox SmartGlass, which among other things, will turn a user’s tablet or smartphone into a controller needed to conduct said web browsing. Users will also be able to use Xbox’s voice-control feature, Kinect, to get around the Internet.
Hamstrung by a clunky keyboard, dial-up access, low-resolution standard-def screens and very little in the way of video to look at, the Web 1.0-era WebTV never came close to achieving wide-scale adoption.
But the experience might catch on with Xbox users.
As a complimentary feature that lets users access video on the open Internet using voice control, Microsoft’s inclusion of Explorer on Xbox seems to have further augmented the available programming on what has become the leading over-the-top platform.
Microsoft announced this new functionality — and several other features and content partners — for its aging Xbox 360 platform Monday at the E3 gaming conference in Downtown Los Angeles. (As expected, there was no major hardware news.)
The presentation, of course, was thick with demos of new versions of popular gaming titles such as Splinter Cell and Halo. But with entertainment usage now outpacing gaming on Xbox, Live-related entertainment announcements took center stage at E3 Monday.
Other announcements made Monday:
— A truly viable cord-cutting solution that lets a user access a respectable level of live sports without a cable bill is still a ways away. But Xbox Live has far and away the most robust sports portfolio of any over-the-top service with the addition of NBA Game Time With League Pass and NHL Game Center to its mix. Both subscription services make hundreds of out-of-market regular-season games available to fans with no cable bill required. Microsoft also announced the addition of the authenticated WatchESPN service, with subscribers to Time Warner Cable(s TWC), Bright House Networks, Verizon FiOS and Comcast Xfinity(s CMCSA) able to view ESPN(s DIS) networks through Xbox.
— Xbox Music: Microsoft didn’t reveal too much about its new music service for Xbox consoles and Windows 8 PCs, other than to say it will arrive with almost 30 million licensed tracks.
— Thirty-five new content partners will launch channels on Xbox Live over the next year, a list that includes Comedy Central Stand Up(s VIA), GameSpot TV, Machinima, Nickelodeon, Paramount Movies, Revision3, Rhapsody, SnagFilms and Univision.
— More on SmartGlass: Available for not just Windows mobile devices, but iOS(s AAPL) and Android(s GOOG) as well, the app acts as a second-screen extension for both gaming and TV watching. For example, a user playing the upcoming new version of Madden can design a play on their iPad. Or, their tablet can tell them the name of the actors they’re watching on TV.