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Microsoft Xbox 360 gets smarter, better and louder
Microsoft Xbox 360 gets smarter, better and louder
By: Sneha Bokil-Paranjape

Microsoft Corp. kicked off the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) by unveiling new software called Xbox SmartGlass that will allow Xbox 360 users to stream and share content across smartphones, tablets and TVs. It also announced that it was bringing its Internet Explorer browser to the console this fall.

The gaming giant whose market-leading Xbox already streams Netflix and ESPN and other channels, unveiled a "SmartGlass" application on Monday that links the console to mobile devices powered by Windows or Apple Inc's iOS and Google Inc's Android.

"Internet Explorer coupled with the power of Xbox will, for the first time, deliver a fast, fluid, intuitive Web experience in the living room," said Xbox Live corporate vice president Marc Whitten.

The US software corporation has been trying for years to make a living-room entertainment hub of its Xbox, which has sold 67 million units since it launched in 2005. Now, the company is trying to expand the Xbox's entertainment menu and hook it up to "companion" mobile devices as a way to boost sales of its seven-year old console.

SmartGlass was demonstrated in several ways, turning a smartphone into a remote control used to surf the Web on a TV and utilizing a tablet as a way to display information about games, TV shows and movies that were simultaneously being played on a TV. Microsoft said the app would be available later this year for Windows phones, Windows 8 and other portable devices.

The feature is similar to the Wii U from Nintendo Co. The upcoming high-definition console will feature a touchscreen controller, which Nintendo announced Sunday would be called the Wii U GamePad. The controller provides different methods and perspectives to interact and play games on screen, as well as the ability to play games and browse the Web without the TV.

When it came to games, Microsoft used its E3 event to hype new installments of "Halo" and "Forza" and reveal new "Gears of War" and "Dance Central" editions, as well the completely new titles "Ascend: New Gods," "LocoCycle" and "Matter" from "Pirates of the Caribbean" . Director-Producer Gore Verbinski.

Microsoft said its voice-recognition ability for Kinect would be available in 12 more countries, and that it secured 35 new partnerships with the likes of the NBA, NHL, Univision and Viacom Inc. to provide content on Xbox 360. The company also announced it was launching a new online music service called Xbox Music.

To work with a video, the content or app will have to be designed to interface with Xbox SmartGlass. Xbox Live has gained access to Paramount's library of movies, and Paramount films could be among the first to work. The SmartGlass app would have a small file size, since it's a streaming technology. What's shown on the tablet or phone screen could be swapped with what's on the large-screen TV, too.

Turning to the music streaming feature, Microsoft has confirmed that the Zune brand will be heading to the graveyard. All Zune-related products and services will be rebranded under a new Xbox Music service. The new Xbox music service will extend a user’s library of songs across multiple platforms, including PCs, smartphones, and tablets running the company’s new Windows 8 operating system. Microsoft is probably hoping that the Xbox brand will give its digital music efforts a fresh and exciting new appeal — basically everything that the Zune isn’t.

Microsoft is the second company at this year's E3 in Los Angeles - the annual gathering of the industry's top executives and analysts and fans -- to show off services that employ a second screen. Nintendo's GamePad controller, unveiled on Monday, is used in conjunction with the company's consoles and features a screen that can display additional content and gameplay.

It's an early look, but SmartGlass looks better in person than it did on stage. It all depends on the apps. To some extent, it's hard to judge right now in such an early stage. Also, the app will be free, and will work with many devices most people already own.