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June 4, 2012 at 9:34 AM

E3: Xbox gets full ESPN, NBA, new music, device sync

LOS ANGELES — Microsoft opened its massive E3 press conference with an extended run through the campaign mode of the upcoming “Halo 4.”

The resurrected franchise will be the billion-dollar cornerstone of the Xbox business this holiday season, but the company also announced entirely new games and services to keep the aging platform fresh and growing.

Microsoft expanded the lineup of broadcast networks that can be streamed through the device, adding ESPN and all major professional sports in the U.S. Also being added are overseas networks as Microsoft looks abroad for more Xbox sales.

There was no word on the next version of the Xbox that’s expected to surface in 2013, following the new Nintendo Wii U that’s being released this year, marking the start of a new generation of consoles to replace models that have been around since 2006.

Nintendo’s big E3 press event is Tuesday morning but the company stepped ahead of Microsoft’s Monday media juggernaut by releasing a video peek at the redesigned console and a new social network using players’ Mii avatars.

In the meantime, Microsoft is leading the current console race with Nintendo and Sony.

Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment group, opened the E3 press conference by announcing that the Xbox is now the top-selling console worldwide and new entertainment partners are coming to the system.

Microsoft also revealed a new application that will connect Xbox online services — including games, movies and music — with mobile phones and tablets, synchronizing playback and supplementing what’s on TV with extra information displayed on the devices.

“This holiday we’re going to take Xbox entertainment beyond the console to your phone, PCs and tablets,” Mattrick said during the concert-like event with light shows, giant screens and pulsing music in the University of Southern California’s Galen Center basketball arena.

Most of the event showcased upcoming games, but Microsoft also emphasized media content that lets the Xbox be used as a portal to online services, via its Xbox Live online service.

New this fall will be full broadcasts of ESPN — in addition to the limited ESPN3 that’s now available on the console. This includes broadcasts of NFL games.

Microsoft also announced deals to carry NBA and NHL broadcast packages. Earlier it reached a similar deal with MLB so it now carries all major sports leagues.

But the sports service’s aren’t free with Xbox online service. The NBA, NHL and MLB apps require subscriptions to league packages. ESPN will broadcasts require users to already pay for ESPN via a cable subscription in the home.

Microsoft also gave a brief hint of its revamped music service — called Music, and no longer branded Zune — that will have 30 million tracks. It’s coming to Xbox as well as Windows 8, according to Yusuf Mehdi, head of marketing and strategy for the business.

Mehdi said dozens of new media apps are coming to the console, including Paramount Movies, Nickelodeon, Machinima and Univision.

Mehdi also talked up the internationalization of Kinect voice search and demonstrated by searching for movies in Spanish.

Also announced is a new partnership with Nike to bring the Nike+ training platform to Kinect, with a virtual trainer to monitor progress and send notifications to users’ phones. Nike’s software for measuring and tracking activity has been closely affiliated with Apple devices.

Speaking of which, Microsoft also announced Xbox SmartGlass, its new application for synchronizing media consumption across the Xbox, TVs, phones and tablets, including Apple and Google Android devices.

Details are still limited but SmartGlass is part of Microsoft’s larger goal of creating universal online entertainment services that connect with all kinds of devices. But the app will initially do most of its tricks on Windows tablets and Windows phones, while Microsoft sorts out ways to stream copyrighted material to different platforms.

Xbox Live manager Marc Whitten demonstrated how you could use the app to watch a movie on a tablet while on a plane, then resume the movie at home on the TV. When the handoff from device to TV happens, the tablet automatically begins displaying auxiliary information such as background on the cast.

“Just like Kinect, SmartGlass gives you another way to take control,” he said.

Whitten also demonstrated Web browsing capability that’s coming to the Xbox this fall with the addition of Internet Explorer, which will be controllable using voice commands on the console.

SmartGlass lets you control the browser with touch gestures on a phone or tablet connected to the Xbox through the technology. SmartGlass will also be a feature of Windows 8 tablets, and will launch alongside Windows 8.

Versions of SmartGlass for iOS and Android devices will be released around the same time but they won’t be able to play back protected content, such as movies. Instead they’ll be able to search for new content and play it back on a TV screen via an Xbox 360.

“Over time we want to take it to playback on any platform,” said Xbox spokesman David Dennis.

A number of games using the Kinect sensor were highlighted, including triple-A titles that are using the sensor to take voice commands from players during games.

Ubisoft demonstrated “Splinter Cell: Blacklist,” a hyper-realistic shooter set in the Middle East. Kinect voice controls supplement input from the Xbox controller manipulating a special forces soldier blasting through the bad guys.

EA Sports showed Kinect voice controls in its “FIFA 13” and “Madden 13” games. In “FIFA,” coming out in the fall, players can use voice controls during play, but the Kinect will also be listening to how they react to ref calls.

“If you make a poor choice of words, you’ll be sure to hear about it,” EA Sports boss Andrew Wilson said.

To demonstrate “Madden 13,” EA brought famed quarterback Joe Montana on stage to call out plays while playing the game, which goes on sale Aug. 28.

“This is actually pretty sweet,” Montana said.

Kinect hit “Dance Central” is getting a third-installment. To demonstrate, Microsoft brought on stage the artist Usher who choreographed two songs on the new game.

Among the demos of new Xbox exclusives were “Wreckateer,” a Kinect game in which you use gestures to destroy castles and goblins using weapons such as giant slingshots.

Microsoft’s also releasing a new action, street-racing version of Forza – called “Forza Horizon” – on Oct. 23.

One of the show stealers, though, was South Park’s “The Stick of Truth,” a game (left) that looks like the snarky, animated TV show. It’s coming out on the Xbox in March 2013.

In the game, you play as a new kid moving to town, trying to become the fifth of the four boys.

The show concluded with an extended demo of “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” which appropriately featured an over-the-top action melee (below) set in a futuristic version of downtown Los Angeles.

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Comments | Topics: call of duty black ops II, e3, forza horizon

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