Microsoft on Wednesday officially launched New Xbox Experience, a service that combines the company's Xbox 360 gaming console and Xbox Live online network into a platform for streaming Netflix movies, holding chat sessions, sharing photos, and engaging in other digital activities.
"The future of home entertainment is Xbox 360," said Don Mattrick, Microsoft's senior VP for interactive entertainment, in a statement. "It's on-demand, it's high-definition, it's always social, it's all in one place."
For many consumers, the most compelling feature of New Xbox Experience will be the ability to instantly stream HD movies and TV episodes from rental house Netflix. Among the 360 titles available are La Vie En Rose, Flawless, and Heroes.
The Xbox 360 is the only gaming device capable of providing users with a direct link to Netflix.
New Xbox Experience, as the revamp is called, also will feature a revised user interface that, among other things, allows users to cycle through options as they would if they were using Windows Vista's Aero interface. Available games, movies, and TV shows are presented side by side and will be easier to find and access, Microsoft said.
A new feature called Xbox Live Party will let parties of up to seven people chat and share pictures over a television screen while simultaneously playing games. The Personality Plus tool will let users create customized avatars that will represent them throughout the Xbox world.
Microsoft is looking to maintain recent Xbox sales momentum in the face of stiff competition from Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii unit. The company in September slashed the price of its Xbox 360 video game console by almost 30% for some models.
The cuts saw the price of the entry-level Xbox 360 Arcade system fall from $279 to $199. The basic Xbox 360 model, which features a 60-GB hard drive, dropped to $299 from $349. The high-end Xbox 360 Elite, which includes a 120-GB hard drive, now sells for $399 -- down from $449.