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11/7/2006
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Microsoft Makes Xbox A Family Machine

Microsoft is hoping for a larger role in the digital living room by making movies and TV shows available for viewing through the Xbox video game console.

Microsoft Corp.'s plan to offer movies and TV shows for viewing through the Xbox widens the appeal of the popular videogame console to non-gamers, a move that could give the device a bigger role in the living room, analysts say.

The Redmond, Wash., company on Monday unveiled agreements with CBS, MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures, Turner Broadcasting System, Ultimate Fighting Championship, and Warner Bros. to offer by the end of the year more than 1,000 hours of content in both standard and high-definition formats. The movies and shows would be distributed online through the Xbox Live network, with the first downloads available Nov. 22.

The Xbox is still very much about gamers, which is evident by some of the content that will be offered initially, TV programs such as Ultimate Fighting championships, "South Park," and "Carpocalypse;" and movies "The Matrix," "V for Vendetta," and "Nacho Libre."

Nevertheless, Microsoft is sure to offer more shows and movies over time, giving more members of gamers' families a reason to pickup the device, Michael Gartenberg, analyst for JupiterResearch said. In addition, the unique download feature provides a reason to choose the Xbox over competing consoles from Sony and Nintendo.

The combination of reaching a wider audience and providing something rivals don't have make the content downloads "important to driving market share and generating longer term revenues beyond games," Gartenberg said Tuesday in his blog.

While integration with the PC and Zune are not part of this release, Gartenberg expects that to happen in the near future. Zune, Microsoft's upcoming portable media player that will compete with Apple Computer's iPod, is scheduled for release next week.

JupiterResearch analyst Joe Wilcox said Tuesday in his blog that Microsoft is offering the Xbox as "kind of a Trojan horse" that gets in the living room via games, but then captures more of a family's entertainment time. An indication of where Microsoft is heading is seen in the device's hardware specs. A DVD drive, 512 MB of RAM, and a 20GB hard drive is standard and makes the Xbox seem more like a PC than a game console.

Microsoft plans to sell full-length TV shows and rent movies. Among the first-time available content are high-definition versions of CBS TV's "CSI," "Jericho," and "Numb3rs" and re-mastered "Star Trek" episodes. In addition, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is making 50 fights available, as well as select episodes from the original season of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series.

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