Microsoft on Monday added YouTube, voice commands, television shows and more to its Xbox 360 with Kinect as the hot-selling videogame console matures into an entertainment center for all.
Studios joined Microsoft on the eve of a premier Electronics Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles to unveil blockbusters such as "Mass Effect 3" that let players use body motion or voice to execute tactics once the exclusive duty of toggles or buttons in controllers.
"Kinect is a natural way to converse with characters," said BioWare co-founder Ray Muzyka, whose studio is behind hit videogame franchise "Mass Effect."
"In a game that already reacts to every decision you make, you will feel even more connected."
Microsoft was intent on broadening the array of Kinect titles to appeal to the traditional "hard core gamers" devoted to shooter games as well as the "casual" audience happy with virtual darts or bowling.
Ubisoft's upcoming "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon" military espionage action game was tailored to work with Kinect gesture-recognition, even letting people use motions to virtually dismantle and customize weapons with waves of hands.
All future titles in the "Tom Clancy" franchise will take advantage of Kinect capabilities, said Ubisoft chief executive Yves Guillemot.
"We have been big believers in Kinect since Day One," Guillemot said. "What we have done with 'Ghost Recon' and Kinect is something a gamer cannot do with a traditional controller."
Microsoft ramped up voice capabilities in Kinect to allow Xbox users not only to give commands to in-game characters but to speak Bing searches for games, movies, television shows, music and other entertainment content.
"This is an incredible time of growth and innovation for our business leveraging technologies that see us, hear us and connect us all together," said Microsoft president of the Interactive Entertainment Business Don Mattrick.
"This year by bringing together the power of Kinect for Xbox 360 and the intelligence of Bing, we are transforming how people enjoy entertainment."
Microsoft has sold more than 10 million of the gesture-sensing Kinect accessories for the Xbox 360 consoles worldwide since they hit the market in November of last year.
Kinect uses a 3D camera and motion recognition software to let people play videogames on the Xbox 360 using natural body movements and voice commands instead of hand-held controllers.
More than 50 million Xbox 360 consoles have been sold worldwide.
Microsoft has teamed with television operators in Britain, France and Australia in the past two years to bring television shows to local audiences through an Xbox Live online entertainment service.
Executives from the Seattle, Washington-based company said Monday they are making alliances to do the same in the United States and other countries.
Microsoft was also adding Google-owned online video-sharing service YouTube to an Xbox Live line-up that includes Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Zune.
"It begins by giving TV a new voice, yours," said Xbox Live corporate vice president Marc Whitten.
"You say it, Xbox finds it," he continued. "This is our vision of the future of television; TV is more amazing when you are the controller."
Voice capabilities will launch in 12 countries later this year and eventually expanded to all countries with Xbox Live, according to Microsoft.
New "body scan" software will let people take their own pictures using Kinect cameras and then convert the images into on-screen or even in-game animated characters, or avatars, with their features and clothing.
"We feel that we have all the great momentum," said Dennis Durkin, chief operating officer of Microsoft's interactive entertainment business. "With our hardware, Kinect sensor, and Live services we feel we can go from being Number One in North America to being Number One worldwide."
Whitten envisioned Kinect moving beyond the living room to medical centers and other places where technology to track skeletal movement and recognize voices could be useful.
"The idea that I can ask the computer to help me is very important," Whitten said. "Kinect voice and skeletal tracking is about teaching computers how we actually work."
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