The Death Of The Gaming Console
...And the rise of the media console. This year's E3 paved the way for a revolution in digital content. As my fellow columnist Shankar Gupta pointed out last week, Microsoft's press conference stole the show. But while Natal is very interesting, a lot more is going on with Microsoft's strategy than just motion-controlled gaming. In essence, Microsoft is going to kill off the "gaming console" to pave the way for a broader "media console." The Xbox 360 is getting several enhancements, each of which are groundbreaking -- but combined, they indicate an amazing future on the horizon.
Social TV: The Xbox 360 is getting Facebook Connect and Twitter to enhance the social aspects of the Xbox LIVE offering. At the same time, the company is rolling out a social viewing feature for its video content. This system allows multiple users to view content, chat, and interact within a theater-like framework. This looks to be the first large-scale enabling of social TV, where a user's social Web can experience content together on a television.
High Quality: One of the best parts of attending E3 was seeing Microsoft's demo of its new 1080p video streaming on the Xbox 360, as I wouldn't have believed it otherwise. Admittedly, the server was probably on a low latency LAN, so it didn't represent actual viewing conditions, but the HD stream of "The Dark Knight" looked comparable with my Blu-Ray copy - and I'm an HD snob. This quality is much higher than broadcast television HD, and is going to be delivered over broadband.
Natal: Even more than just the gaming possibilities, I'm intrigued by the impact Natal will have on content in general. Consider some scenarios: A user sits down after a long day, and Natal automatically logs that user into Xbox LIVE, and a list of personalized media content comes up. Maybe Natal logs a user into his account, and through Facebook connect, brings up his friend feed. Or what if a user could navigate a Mass Effect inspired video content sequence based on smiles, frowns, head nods, etc.? Imagine if Tinkerbell in "Peter Pan" were actually brought back by the audience's claps. There could be applications even for music. If Natal saw multiple people milling about, it might DJ party mixer music, and as the party died down, move to more mellow tunes, adjusting the volume as needed based on conversational volume levels.
Microsoft will likely need to do a lot of tuning to get these properties to all interact properly, in a seamless manner, and with the right business model. The company is also going to face the same issue Nintendo currently faces: working to broaden its audience without doing so at the cost of its core demographic.
Despite these concerns, I personally can't wait to see all of these features come to fruition. For someone who constantly looks at new media, it's very exciting to see multiple features all come together on a platform with an install base in the tens of millions.
(Full disclosure: Josh Lovison works for the IPG Emerging Media Lab, which works with Universal McCann. Both Microsoft and Sony are agency clients.)