Those still on the fence regarding media convergence got a rude awakening last night as Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One, a cloud-based media hub that aims to become the only box under your TV.
While gamers grumble on social media regarding the lack of games shown at the tech giant’s heavily publicised press event, for the TV industry there was plenty to chew on. If the Xbox 360 was a games console that also, eventually, allowed streaming video apps and music services, then Xbox One is a set top box that also plays games.
For the first time, the Xbox One will allow live TV through its gates, and the console’s revised Kinect sensor offers voice activated switching, instantaneously, from one media to another. Imagine channel surfing, only now active gameplay, web browsing and Skype calls as well as TV are being navigated on the fly.
The console also offers a “snap” feature, allowing two media to share the screen. The example given was watching the 2009 Star Trek movie while looking up information on its sequel and booking cinema tickets. Add in Microsoft’s second screen Smart Glass app, already downloaded over 10 million times, and it becomes clear just how aggressive Microsoft’s living room strategy is.
The company is betting big on cross media projects in more traditional ways also. Steven Spielberg has been announced as the producer of a live action TV show based on the best-selling Halo games franchise.
Microsoft also announced Quantum Break, a new project from Finnish game developer Remedy. Much like Syfy’s recent Defiance, Quantum Break will combine a live action show with a game, where each element influences the other. Details are still frustratingly vague – will the show be on TV or online? – but for a giant like Microsoft to throw its weight behind transmedia storytelling, and to give it such a prominent role in what is certainly the most important announcement from the company in the last five years, says a lot about where the games industry sees its future.
That future clearly overlaps with our own. With an alpha dog like Microsoft staking its territory, the TV industry may need to decide whether to work with such companies to develop new media or to fight against them for ownership of the living room.