People often ask “where are my flying cars?” when it comes to the future. Well, now a piece of that future can be yours: voice-activated TV through Microsoft’s new partnerships with many of the major cable companies and other content providers around the world. The new services will allow you to use your Xbox 360 as your cable box to access many, but not all, of the most popular channels on the dial. Providers signed up include:
• ABC iView – Australia
• AlloCiné – France, Germany, Spain, U.K.
• Antena 3 – Spain
• Astral Media’s Disney XD – Canada
• AT&T** – U.S.
• BBC – U.K.
• blinkbox – U.K.
• Bravo – U.S.
• BSkyB** – U.K.
• Canal+* – France, Spain
• Channel 4 – U.K.
• Channel 5 – U.K.
• CinemaNow (Best Buy) – U.S.
• Comcast – U.S.
• Crackle – Australia, Canada, U.K., U.S.
• Dailymotion – Available in 32 markets
• EPIX – U.S.
• ESPN** – U.S.
• Facebook** – Available in all 35 Xbox LIVE markets
• FOXTEL** – Australia
• GolTV – Spain
• HBO GO – U.S.
• Hulu – Japan
• Hulu +**– U.S.
• iHeartRadio (Clear Channel) – U.S.
• Last.fm** – U.K., U.S.
• LOVEFiLM – Germany, U.K.
• Manga Entertainment – U.S.
• Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment/Real Sports – Canada
• MediaSet – Italy
• MSN with MSNBC.com – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, U.K.
• MUZU.TV – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, U.K.
• Netflix**– Canada, U.S.
• Rogers On Demand Online (RODO) – Canada
• RTVE – Spain
• SBS On Demand – Australia
• Syfy – U.S.
• Telefonica – Spain
• Televisa – Mexico
• “The Today Show” – U.S.
• TELUS** – Canada
• TMZ – U.S.
• Twitter** – Available in all 35 Xbox LIVE markets
• UFC – Canada, U.S.
• Verizon – U.S.
• VEVO – Canada, U.K., U.S.
• VimpelCom** – Russia
• Vodafone Portugal** – Portugal
• YouTube – Available in 22 markets
• ZDF – Germany
• Zune** – Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain
* Xbox LIVE Gold membership and/or other subscriptions/fees required. Kinect functionality varies by feature, provider and region.
** Denotes existing partners on Xbox LIVE available today.
Sadly, the future is limited to existing subscribers of these services, and if the AT&T deal is any indication, you’ll still have to pay some kind of setup fee to get the dongle for your Xbox. The real next step in cable is the ability to purchase these services, or at least a cable package, over streaming alone without having the hassle of hookup.
The big question is what this means for GoogleTV, who has been looking to provide many of the same services. BYOCableBox has been in the works for several years, with Panasonic showing prototype Blu-ray players with Verizon FIOS cable boxes built into them, and efforts like CableCARD to have them built into TVs. Modern digital cable boxes are no longer a fairly simple circuit, but complex computers for decompressing and storing digital video and running interactive services. Google TV, while publicly a standalone “enhancement” device for television, was always about getting into those ubiquitous devices from Scientific Atlanta or Motorola(see, Google’s buy wasn’t just about cell phone patents).
Microsoft has tried for years to get into the entertainment business, repeatedly trying to buy or merge with NBC Universal, and of course their involvement in the HD DVD vs. Blu-ray format wars. Many of the technologies they developed for HD DVD were obviously a precursor to this kind of online delivery, with their VC-1 flavor of MPEG-4 tailored more to low bitrate applications, and HD-i setup for dynamic content changes like we see in Silverlight on the Xbox Dashboard today.
Google has to be shaking a bit right now that there are 55 million Xbox 360s out there (minus the victims of the red ring of death) that are able to use this service, now, today, and with 10 million Kinects out there, are able to use the gesture and voice control features that are due to be introduced in November. TV is a passive activity where most people want to be physically engaged as little as possible, and the ability to say “Xbox, watch Breaking Bad,” and have it click over to AMC, or bring up the show on =Netflix if it’s not airing right now is pretty darn cool, and trumps menu-based systems.