Some days it feels as though Microsoft's been banging on about Xbox 360 being a 360-degree entertainment platform for 360 years. Today is one of those days. "When we launched Xbox 360 four years ago, we called it Xbox 360 for a reason," says UK boss Neil Thompson. "We wanted to deliver an entertainment experience that was 360 degrees, as wide-ranging and broad for consumers as we could possibly create." We know.
Thompson is speaking during a Microsoft press event held in a posh hotel in central London. You can tell it's a posh hotel because they're serving canapés made of organs you never even knew fish had. You can tell it's a Microsoft event by the colour of the trimmings they've used to decorate the room - there are even acid green flowers on the tables. But there are blue blooms tucked in there too, and the Xbox 360 logo isn't the only one displayed on the big plasma tellies hanging on the walls.
Microsoft has invited us here to introduce its new best friend, Sky, and tell us about the beautiful babies they're going to make together. Come autumn, everyone who owns a broadband-connected Xbox 360 will be able to access Sky content through their console. Everyone in the UK and Ireland, anyway; there's no word on when, or indeed whether, the service will be available in the rest of Europe.
"This is a local announcement. Today we're really focused on the partnership between Sky and Xbox 360 here in the UK and Ireland," says Xbox Live Europe boss Jerry Johnson. "We're always evaluating how we continue to grow the business, but today really is about how we're going to build on this relationship here."
Johnson begins a demo of the service by bringing up the content menu. It looks just like all the other menus on the 360's dashboard - the items available are shown as a queue of big square images, and you can flick between them by pressing left and right. The only difference is the background colour is Sky blue.
The content is divided into genres. These include sport (as denoted by a big Arsenal logo), movies (a still from Transformers) and entertainment (the first time Lorraine Kelly's face has appeared on the 360 - officially anyway). Two avatars are standing idly by the Arsenal logo. Johnson explains this means two of his friends are watching the Arsenal match, and he can ask to join their Xbox Live Party.
Microsoft is keen to highlight access to Sky's sports content as one of the biggest attractions of the new service. You'll be able to watch events live, though you'll have to pay for the privilege in some cases. No one will discuss pricing today but we're repeatedly told to refer to the Sky Player, which allows you to watch Sky's content online, for an idea of what will be available and how much it will cost.
Unless you're a Sky subscriber already the content is unlikely to come cheap. A quick look at the price list reveals the basic Sky Player package for PC is GBP 15 per month. That gets you Sky News, Sky Sports News, the Disney Channel, Eurosport, National Geographic, MTV and Nickelodeon. It's an extra 11 quid if you want the single sports pack. Access to all of Sky's sports channels costs a total of GBP 34 per month. It's not yet clear whether you'll have to commit to similar packages and subscription fees to get the same content via Xbox 360 - or whether you'll be able to pay a one-off fee to see a single match, for example.
Back to Johnson's Xbox Live Party, and one of the features you can't get with the PC Sky Player no matter which package you choose. With the 360, you and up to seven friends can watch sporting events in a virtual stadium. Your avatars sit in a VIP viewing box, surveying the surrounding crowd and watching the live action on a big screen. You can chat via headsets and press buttons to make your avatars cheer, laugh, wave and so on.
You can flick back to the full-screen view of the match at any time, and keep talking away to the rest of your party even when the avatars aren't on screen. As with the regular Sky Sports service you'll be able to access special features such as match stats, fixture lists, news updates and so on. But the real highlight, as far as Johnson's concerned, is being able to watch sporting events with your friends without having to be in the same room.
"It's about building richer experiences, like the ability to get a group of eight people together - you can't do that on another platform," he says. "We have 20 million users worldwide playing games and interacting on Xbox. How can we bring content together with that community and those interactive experiences? In a rich way you can only do with the power of Xbox Live and the power of the console itself." Except not all those 20 million users live in the UK and Ireland, of course.
Johnson moves on to the regular TV content; Are You Smarter Than a Ten Year-Old? and Ross Kemp on Gangs are given as examples of what you'll be able to access. TV will be streamed live and direct to your Xbox 360, without the need for a satellite dish, and you'll be able to watch it in full-screen.
There's an EPG that looks similar to the regular Sky+ one and pretty simple to use. You can't record programmes but you can choose from a library of content that's already been broadcast. "If I miss a TV show I wanted to watch, I can get it streamed on demand," explains Johnson. "So it's almost like the Sky service provides PVR functionality. I kind of look at this as a PVR in the sky."
Now he turns to the part of the service that will be the biggest attraction for many people - the movies. Microsoft's Video Marketplace will continue to exist, and you'll still be able to download films from it as usual. But you'll also have a library of Sky Box Office films to choose from and, again using the Sky Player as a model, buy packages which give you access to a selection of movies. For example, right now a Sky Player user could choose to watch The Incredible Hulk at no extra charge, or view Open Season 2 for just under GBP 3.50. But won't there be overlap with the Video Marketplace?
"Yes," admits Johnson. "Not to draw too many comparisons but we have the Netflix deal in the US, and you'll find movies that appear in both of those markets. It comes back to choice for the consumer; the breadth and depth of content Sky's bringing to the platform means a big win-win for us."
Under the terms of the Netflix deal, American Xbox 360 owners who pay a subscription fee can access Netflix's entire library of films via their consoles. The service has been up and running in the US since November but there's been no suggestion anything similar could be launched in Europe. Is this what we're getting instead?
"I look at this experience and I think what we're bringing to the UK is better..." says Johnson, and someone in a Microsoft bunker presses a button which makes the chip in his brain Taser his central nervous system.
"I better watch what I say. Um, we think this is unique and different from what's going on in the rest of the world. The ability to have video-on-demand, to have choices of the type of contact, to have an interactive experience around sports - it's something you can't get anywhere else."
But will we be able to demand as much video as our American friends, who can choose from more than 10,000 Netflix movies? A lady from Sky chips in: "Looking at the Sky Player online service, there are around 500 movies at any one time on-demand. What we're saying today is the service will be similar to the Sky Player service we offer now."
That's certainly a healthy number. But 500 is not as good as 10,000, is it? "I look at the frequency and how fresh the content is that's coming on Sky, and I don't think there's a better partner if we want to get relevant, up-to-date content - the latest features, the latest movies, the latest television programming," says Johnson.
Unlike with the sports offering, you won't be able to watch avatars watching movies in a virtual cinema - at least not yet. "Right now, we're really focused on sports. Of course as we look at this, group experiences are always part of it," Johnson says. "Another thing about Xbox Live is you can always start up a voice chat, whether you're playing Halo, watching a movie or just sitting in the dashboard. So that functionality will always be there."
There will also be a wait for high-definition content, if it ever arrives at all. "Right now, we're committing to bringing standard definition and DVD-quality content to the Xbox," says Johnson. "But we'll always be evaluating, based on technical limitations and consumer demand."
There are still many questions hanging over Sky's Xbox 360 deal, not least with regard to how much it's all going to cost. What if you're a Sky subscriber already? What if you don't want to commit to a monthly package, but just want to watch the odd match? How long will you be able to access content you've downloaded for? Will there be adverts involved?
The execs aren't answering any of those questions today, preferring to concentrate on seeing how many times they can squeeze the words "entertainment" and "choice" into a single sentence. But if anyone has experience of providing paid-for sports, movie and TV content, it's Sky. And if anyone knows how to build and sell to a huge online community, it's Microsoft. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship. And a profitable one; they're likely to make more than 360 pounds out of it, that's for sure.