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Xbox 360 launch this year - Gates

Microsoft chairman breaks the silence on Xbox 360's launch date.

Speaking at a business writers' convention in the United States, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has confirmed that the next-generation Xbox console will launch this year, and once again promoted the new system's multimedia capabilities.

Breaking with the company's policy of staying silent in public on the question of when the new console, widely believed to be called Xbox 360, will launch, Gates told the Society of American Business Writers and Editors that the system will ship in the current year.

Speaking about high definition displays, he asked rhetorically when the "year of high definition" will be - and followed on to say that it would be "this year, because we're going to ship this next Xbox."

His comment is the first public acknowledgement by the company that it plans to ship Xbox 360 before the end of the year, although it's been generally accepted around the industry for some time that the console will arrive in October or November.

Gates also talked briefly about the multimedia functionality which will be offered by Xbox 360, comparing it to the firm's Media Center PC software. "If you've used that menu, when you use this Xenon [the codename for Xbox 360], you'll see a menu a lot like that, that lets you get photos, TV, music and all those different things," he explained.

It's still not clear, however, whether Xbox 360 will offer this functionality in all of its retail versions. Several reports have indicated that the system will ship with two configurations, one of which, lacking a hard drive, will be less capable as a multimedia device.

Many questions about the new console are expected to be answered next week, when MTV broadcasts a television special about the Xbox 360 - airing on the evening of May 12th in North America, and on May 13th worldwide.