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Why Microsoft’s Press Conference Was Not Focused on Games (And Why I’m OK with It)

This year, I made a choice many people have been making for the last couple of years, I cancelled my cable. I can safely say that, three months later, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In light of that fact, I’ve now turned to my Xbox 360 as the source of my day-to-day entertainment. When not using it to play games, I stream TV shows from Hulu and Amazon Video, I stream movies on Netflix and I use it as my DVD player—it’s become a fairly common situation among many people. For those of us without the kind of high-performance PCs required to run high-definition videos and games, our consoles have become our sources of entertainment.

That’s why I was relieved that it was quite clear that Microsoft is attempting to go in a new direction with its upcoming non-game-related offerings. Honestly, after slogging through a sea of underwhelming franchise sequels, this was incredibly refreshing to see. Just like Nintendo made the Wii the “casual” console, Microsoft is setting up Xbox 360 to be the “one-stop shop” for home entertainment.

The biggest news on this front came in the form of the buzzword-tastic “Project SmartGlass.” SmartGlass is an innovative technology that will allow Xbox 360 owners to seamlessly incorporate tablet PCs with their Xbox 360 experience. Among its awesomely unnecessary features is the ability to display information on your tablet PC about the show you are watching. Microsoft demoed the new tech by playing HBO’s Game of Thrones while showcasing an interactive map of Westeros that pointed to the area in which each scene took place. SmartGlass will also allow players to use their tablet PCs as game controllers, as Microsoft demonstrated in a video of someone drafting plays in Madden NFL using a tablet PC. I can’t yet decide whether this will have any actual utility or it will just be a flashy gimmick, but it’s definitely creating a lot of buzz.

While SmartGlass will definitely receive the most attention, what got me truly excited was the announcement of Microsoft’s new video content partnerships. Soon, Xbox 360 owners will be able to stream more movies and shows from the likes of Paramount and Univision, as well as subscribing to entire seasons of the NHL and NBA. Best of all, Microsoft is completely replacing the clunky Zune Marketplace with Xbox Music, an online music service to feature more than 30 million tracks. Xbox Music will connect with SmartGlass technology to stream on-demand music to any mobile device or tablet PC.

Finally, while Microsoft already offers some Web capability with the Microsoft Bing search app, they will be taking it one step further with the inclusion of fully functional Web-browsing using Internet Explorer (it’s better than no Internet...) Of course, SmartGlass technology will also be utilized to turn your tablet PC into a Web-browsing tool.

I think it will be interesting to see in the coming week what the other companies reveal, but it’s a good move on Microsoft’s part to focus on widening the Xbox 360’s core offering. It’s no longer becoming a glorified projector for the latest Call of Duty; the Xbox 360 has the potential to be a foundation for home entertainment, and I’m glad that Microsoft is finally realizing it.


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