Redmond (WA) - Starting November 19, Microsoft will be coming a lot closer to its goal to turn the Xbox 360 into the universal home entertainment most of us will ever need. Microsoft’s deal will open up the Xbox 360 to an all-you-can-eat video streaming fest that covers more than 10,000 movies and TV shows. What is unique about the Xbox-Netflix relationship is the fact that the console will get HD content, which not only pitches it against Apple’s hobby project Apple TV, but also against Blu-ray.
According to NewTeeVee's Chris Albrecht, major update for the Xbox Live service is scheduled for November 19. Called “New Xbox Experience,” users will be treated to unlimited Netflix streaming in high-definition (HD) (as long they are subscribers to a Netflix subscription plan supporting unlimited streaming as well). TG Daily previously reported that Xbox 360 users will get an unlimited streaming of 10,000 movies and TV shows in Netflix's library but we were unaware that at least some streams would be offered in HD.
The HD access is a clear advantage for the Xbox 360 over other Netflix-enabled devices such as certain Blu-ray players and the Roku box.
The cost involved is at least $8.99 a month for Netflix and $7.99 per month for the Xbox Live Gold service, translating into $17 per month or about $204 per year (Xbox Live Gold is also offered as an annual $50 subscription). We previously noted that charging for Netflix access may be a problem for Microsoft, but HD access may actually provide the additional value that could justify such a move.
In fact, HD streaming could be an important step Microsoft's push into the family room – and as a strategy to skip Blu-ray. Many U.S. consumers have replaced their TV sets with never HDTVs and are ready to see higher quality visuals on their TVs.
Both Microsoft and Apple have had ideas for consumer entertainment, but there has not been a compelling product yet. Gamers purchase Xbox 360 primarily for gaming and mostly consider movies as add-on to the console. A non-gamer is unlikely to purchase the console just for its set-top box and video capabilities. Apple TV is an even stranger animal. Half set-top box, half iTunes streaming box, it never really made sense and remained an inconclusive product.
Some analysts think Apple should open up Apple TV to third-party developers and make it run the App Store to turn it into a casual gaming device. However, there is also the notion that set-top boxes will vanish once major HD TV makers begin adding set-top box capabilities directly into their TVs. Sony already announced that all of its Bravias will include a built-in module for Internet movie streaming and it is only a question of time before others will follow and much more powerful silicon will be integrated.
If you ask us, we actually believe that Apple’s best shot is to transform the Apple TV into a TV. Imagine 42” - 56” glossy screen with the Apple logo, covered with scratch-resistant glass and black borders around the screen edges, DVR, Wi-Fi/Ethernet/Bluetooth/USB2, video conferencing camera built-in and App Store support for games and additional applications.
As it stands now, Microsoft is certainly making the most impressive moves in home entertainment, while Netflix seems to be emerging as the default video rental store of the future.
And in line with Microsoft’s approach to turn the Xbox 360 into everything for everyone, we would like to put in a request for a USB-powered frozen pizza heating device.