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Xbox Live Challenges the Cable Box - NYTimes.com

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Xbox Live Challenges Cable Box

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The Xbox interface will allow users to search using Microsoft's Bing across many services, returning results in various forms.

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The old-fashioned cable television set-top box — long the hub of living-room entertainment for most people — is about to become less relevant.

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By NICK WINGFIELD and BRIAN STELTER Published: December 5, 2011

Beginning on Tuesday and continuing through the month, Microsoft will give a face-lift to its Xbox Live online entertainment service that will allow subscribers to watch a wide array of mainstream television programming from the Xbox 360 console.

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In addition, rather than fumbling with traditional remote controls and the primitive program guides of cable boxes, Xbox Live users will be able to search for shows using voice commands and hand gestures, if they also have the popular Kinect peripheral for the Xbox.

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Later this month, Microsoft will begin adding dozens of other sources of programming to the service, including Verizon FiOS, Comcast’s Xfinity and HBO. On Tuesday, the few online video services that have been on Xbox Live for some time, including Netflix and Hulu Plus, will be able to be retrieved using voice searching and other methods.

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Xbox Live Challenges the Cable Box - NYTimes.com

12/5/11 8:27 PM

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Microsoft’s deal with cable and content providers stops short of making it possible for people to ditch their traditional pay-television packages; people will still need to pay the cable providers to get channels through the Xbox. They will also have to pay the roughly $60 a year Microsoft typically charges for a premier membership to Xbox Live.

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And the Xbox won’t be a true substitute for everything viewers can get through their cable boxes because content rights will have to be negotiated for some shows before they can be watched through the console.

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But the agreement is nonetheless significant because there are more than 35 million worldwide subscribers to Xbox Live, making the Xbox one of the most common Internetconnected boxes in living rooms. And it is part of a growing effort by media companies to bring some 21st-century pizazz to the experience of navigating and watching television, a medium that is largely watched using traditional remote controls and set-top boxes that have changed little in the past 10 years.

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Most cable boxes require viewers to navigate through primitive on-screen program guides, pressing buttons on their remotes to scroll through the vast lists of shows. The process is especially jarring for a generation of people who are accustomed to the slick graphics and responsiveness of more modern devices, like the Xbox and the iPad.

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“The user experience through traditional cable set-top boxes hasn’t kept pace with the kind of user experience people get from all these other devices they use throughout the day,” Tom Rogers, chief executive of TiVo, said. With the update coming this week to the Xbox, all of the video available to users over the Xbox Live service from all of Microsoft’s media partners will be indexed, so people can search for programs using their voices and the company’s Bing search engine, instead of awkwardly tapping out search terms through remote controls pointed at cable set-top boxes.

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In a demonstration of the technology last week at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., Michael Suraci, director of marketing for Xbox Live, told an Xbox to “Bing Sandra Bullock,” which promptly found “The Blind Side,” “Crash” and several other movies starring the actress that were available through various sources of video on Xbox Live. Mr. Suraci also used a sequence of voice commands to switch to an app for Verizon’s FiOS TV, within which he could flip among live channels by using more voice commands or a swiping motion with his hands. “I think it’s a much, much better experience to use voice than typing,” said Marc Whitten, corporate vice president of Xbox Live. Mark Greenberg, chief executive of Epix, a company that streams films from Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM, raved about the voice search and hand-gesture capabilities of the Xbox. Epix will stream a library of about 3,000 films through the Xbox.

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“Maybe it’s the beginning part of the process toward eliminating the set-top box,” Mr. Greenberg said, while adding that he did not expect the traditional box to go away completely.

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Cable executives have conflicting attitudes about the set-top boxes. Many acknowledge that they seem outdated compared with other forms of consumer electronics, and realize that consumers have trouble using them, especially as more video becomes available. “It can be frustrating to consumers to be entitled to content and have difficulty finding it,” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/05/technology/xbox-live-challenges-the-cable-box.html?_r=1&ref=technology

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Xbox Live Challenges the Cable Box - NYTimes.com

12/5/11 8:27 PM

said Samuel M. Schwartz, an executive vice president of Comcast who oversees emerging Internet businesses. The Xbox, Mr. Greenberg said, “is an opportunity for the cable industry to experiment.” 1

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A version of this article appeared in print on December 5, 2011, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: Xbox Live Challenges Cable Box.

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Xbox Live Challenges the Cable Box - NYTimes.com

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