May 12, 2003 8:30 PM PDT

Xbox sings a new tune

LOS ANGELES--Microsoft announced the first nongame application for its Xbox video game console Monday and touted a handful of high-profile games intended to boost the system's cachet among hardcore players.

The unveiling of the Xbox Music Mixer was the most striking announcement at the company's press conference held in advance of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade show here. The $40 package, set to go on sale this fall, will include PC and Xbox software that will allow owners to transfer digital music and photos from their computer to the console's hard drive.

"We have to expand the definition of interactive entertainment," Microsoft executive Ed Fries said during the presentation, promising the music software would "unlock more of the entertainment potential of Xbox."

David Hufford, Microsoft product manager, said before the press conference that the package helps expand the utility of the Xbox by allowing it to become a conduit for running slideshows on a television and for doing karaoke using the microphone included in the kit.

Nongame uses for the Xbox have been the subject of widespread speculation ever since the console was announced, with many analysts casting the machine as a Trojan horse for Microsoft to expand its reach into the living room. Potential uses for the Xbox as a digital jukebox, a video recorder or a limited-function PC substitute have been mooted. Microsoft fueled speculation last year by conducting a survey on possible Xbox-PC connectivity.

Hufford said the Xbox is now established enough as a games machine that Microsoft can look at other ways to utilize its capabilities. Music was a natural direction, he said, given the popularity of existing functions that allow Xbox owners to "rip" songs from a CD to the console's hard drive. "When we looked at the popularity of people using the Xbox as a jukebox to play their music, we thought there were ways to enhance the value there."

In related news, Microsoft announced that "Doom III," the highly anticipated shooting game expected to be released in a PC version possibly late this year, will come out for the Xbox. The software giant also showed previews of "Halo 2," the sequel to the million-selling shooter that helped drive initial Xbox sales.

The company also showed kid-oriented titles from Rare, the popular British game developer Microsoft bought last year in an expensive bid to boost the range and quality of its self-published Xbox games.

Finally, there were new services for Xbox Live, the online gaming service for the console. These included Web-based services that will alert subscribers by cell phone, handheld computer and other devices when a buddy wants to play a game online.

Equally noteworthy were several announcements Microsoft failed to make. Despite widespread speculation, the company offered no price cut on the Xbox hardware and didn't show the slimmed-down version of the console many had expected.

 

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