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Thursday August 18, 2011 1:04 pm

Microsoft’s living room vision includes apps, Mediaroom, and Xbox

Microsoft showed off the future of the living room on Wednesday, and it appears to be a combination of Bing, Kinect, and the Mediaroom IPTV technology that forms the foundation of the Xbox.

Oh, and it seems to be taking place first overseas.

In a video embedded below, Microsoft's Marc Whitten, corporate vice president of Xbox Live (identified as a corporate vice president of ISS Experiences) showed off short clips of how the living room, as exemplified by the Xbox 360 and Kinect, continued to evolve. The demonstration placed a premium on natural user interfaces, identified by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates as one of the most significant advances in personal computing.

"Our goal is really, really simple," Whitten says in the video. "It's about how we make this effortless, intuitive and delightful. And that starts by making the technology fade out of the way, getting it all into the background."

In the video, users interact with the Xbox via voice commands and gestures, interpreted by the Microsoft Kinect. A command like "Xbox Bing Batman," for example, tells the Xbox to search for available "Batman" media, such as the movie, the animated cartoon show, and possibly even related video games.

Underneath the Xbox, however, lies Mediaroom, which also powers set-top boxes such as AT&T's U-Verse, plus boxes from BT and Deutsche Telekom. But Microsoft also made the conscious decision to treat Mediaroom as a "white box" product, letting AT&T brand its box the way it chose.

Over 40 different operators have launched boxes using the technology, which touch 7 million subscriber households, according to Ben Huang, director of worldwide marketing for the media platforms business at Microsoft, in a recent interview. Not surprisingly, as the Xbox has become more like a set-top box, the Xbox and Mediaroom platforms have converged.

"We looked at our TV strategy holistically, to make it complementary with the Xbox side," Huang said.

The tightest integration between the Xbox and set-top box, however, hasn't been within the United States, although AT&T and Microsoft unveiled AT&T U-Verse TV for the Xbox last October. However, the Xbox does not serve as the primary receiver for the home; an additional DVR/gateway is required.

That's not the case for Vodafone's Casa TV, launched in Portugal at the end of 2009. In that case, Huang said, the Xbox 360 serves as the primary receiver.

Could a Casa TV be launched within the United States? Of course, but that's up to the operator. And it's more likely that Mediaroom functionality will be built into the TVs themselves over time, as the chips that power the set-top boxes move into the television itself, Huang said.

The other advantage of Mediaroom is that's an IP-powered service, meaning that the company can hang IP services off of the platform. One of the more obvious choices is Skype, whose $8.5 billion acquisition was approved by the FTC in June, but has yet to close.

"Five to six years ago, not many people were talking about IP all the way across an entertainment offering," Huang said. "But now... because they're VOIP operated and they're also based on IP – if someone calls, I can have caller ID flash up on my U-verse TV offering. I can check my voicemail and can intitate a call, and that's a very rudimentary example. I can think about the four services across the quad play, and how do you tie those things together from an entertainment perspective, there's just a lot of things that you can do to having a platform with a holistic view across all four of those services."

"We haven't been public about what we're doing with Skype except to the extent of the small handful of services, things that are across Xbox," Huang said. "I think there's a natural progression, because we are really thinking about now from this platform perspective, how do we enable the operators to create more value across the triple and quad play, things like that fall in that direction."

Huang also showed off a Microsoft Windows Phone app that could not only control the set-top box, but could also download, not stream, movies to the phone. Since Mediaroom also powers Windows Phone, he said, movies could be downloaded and "locked" to a user's handset.

This article, written by Mark Hachman, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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