Microsoft uber-king Bill Gates delivered a CES keynote in Las Vegas this morning that kept gaming at its core and showed an extended vision for connectivity between Xbox 360 and Windows Vista.
Making several announcements - including an IPTV service for Xbox 360 and Live play between Vista and 360, both of which will be made available this year - Gates and Microsoft's entertainment head, Robbie Bach, delivered yet another compelling update to the corporation's involvement in gaming.
Gates in your face
After queuing for over two hours to get a seat at the speech, attendees were greeted with an intro movie, during which Gears of War was shown prominently, as was a group of "youths" using the Xbox 360 DVD remote.
Gates came on to a storm of camera flash, the scene suddenly reminiscent of the chaos everyone in the room endured to get through the door. Sweeping platitudes and reams of figures about the success of the PC and Windows finally gave way to a hands-on with Vista, which launches on 30th January.
A Vista feature called Windows Live became the first application to hint at the way games have been integrated into the new version of the OS. Using the Xbox 360 controller, we were flown around Las Vegas on a fully 3D modelled map reached using Windows Live through a link for the Hotel Bellagio in the new version of Word. The controller can be plugged into any Vista PC to play any Vista game, apparently.
A few video desktops and digital photo applications later, the next mention of gaming was in conjunction with HP MediaSmart Server, a home data networking system. Literally a mention. It hooks up to Zune as well. Like, cool.
Bach to the future
Then Gates brought out Robbie Bach, president of the entertainment devices division and perennial favourite of 360-lovers. Mobile, music and games are his bag, said Bill. Bach blasted on about Zune and mobile phones, finally arrived at gaming. He started with Games for Windows, saying Vista "will revitalise gaming for" the platform. He reckoned 200 million people per month play games on Windows.
"One of the cool things about Games for Windows is that, while it's for hardcore gamers, it's for casual gamers too," he said. He showed a video to prove it.
AOE III The Warchiefs, Supreme Commander, Shadowrun, Alan Wake, Spinworld, Luxor 2, Bioshock, Flight Simulator X, Bliss Island, a new Train Simulator, The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, World in Conflict, Hellgate: London, Company of Heroes, a PC version of Geometry Wars, Lego Star Wars 2, Halo 2, Age of Conan - Hyborian Adventures and Crysis all got an airing. None too shabby.
Then the meat. Bach spat the words: 10.4 million consoles sold worldwide by December 31, 2006, he said, the machine now sporting 160 titles in 37 countries. Hitting the 10 million mark before the end of 2006, as they said they would, is big news, and he certainly knows it.
"We're setting records every step of the way for a console at this stage of its lifecycle," he said. And with over 2.7 million copies of Gears of War sold, "That title is now a Halo-like franchise," he added, claiming more than 300 titles will be available for the machine before the end of 2007.
Moving onto Xbox Live, Bach claimed the service now has 5 million members, and that it's the most popular network service on TV.
Living the dream
He demonstrated Live on Windows. That's "Live on Windows". A nice lady called Lisa turned up and played a game of UNO with an Xbox 360 controller on a Vista-running laptop.
"It's drop dead simple," she said.
Live looks pretty much the same on Vista as it does on 360. We saw a Friends list, and Lisa found a guy called Albert playing Geometry Wars on Xbox 360 (he's sitting in a "lounge" on the stage). Live will hit Vista this summer, says Bach.
There was more, specifically the HD-DVD add-on drive and Xbox Live video. He pushed Media Center and how it can link to Xbox 360, and showed slides of partners offering downloadable video for Live video. Lisa demoed it using the DVD remote, downloading Superman Returns in high definition.
They showed IPTV running on a 360. "This is going to be the next generation of channel surfing," said Albert, and showed browsing through hundreds of channels. He took on a gaming invite for Gears of War while watching TV, and pointed out that he can chat to his friend through his headset while they both watch TV. Any way you look at it, that's pretty cool.
"This is everything I want," said Albert. "It's all in one box. It's all on Xbox 360."
IPTV will launch on Xbox 360 "Holiday 2007".
Gates came back out, but before anyone can stop him, he's off about cars and futuristic homes. He demoed voice and touch-screen technology in a kitchen. He shows off live mobile stuff standing next to a dummy bus stop.
"Because I'm so used to bus stops," he smiles. There's a low chuckle. Night, Bill.
Hasta la Vist… sorry, that's unfair
Microsoft looked brutally confident at CES tonight, and those Vista and 360 announcements should be genuinely exciting for gamers. Also highly significant is the 10.4 million sales figure Bach bounced around the stage, and in terms of gaming, it's doubtful anyone will be talking about much else at CES over the next three days.
All eyes now will turn to the Vista launch for both business and home users and gamers in general, and we should get a much better look at the new Windows this week. Lucky us, huh?