Microsoft Opens Xbox 360 to TV Movie Downloads 

In another bid to differentiate its product from Sony's PlayStation 3 (PS3), Microsoft this morning announced that it will allow Xbox 360 owners to buy and rent TV shows and movies, often in HDTV format. Microsoft has signed deals with such content providers as CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Paramount Pictures, Turner Broadcasting, and Warner Bros Studios.

"This groundbreaking announcement is a win for everyone," says Microsoft Corporate Vice President, Peter Moore, who runs the company's Interactive Entertainment Business. "It connects our partners with one of the most coveted audiences in entertainment today and provides even greater value to our Xbox Live community, allowing them to enjoy the games and entertainment they want when they want it."

p p p p Microsoft says that it will begin offering more than 1000 hours of standard definition television SDTV and HDTV programming to Xbox 360 users starting November 22 including full length TV show downloads and movie rentals The content includes some exclusives such as the popular CBS series CSI and newly remastered versions of the classic Star Trek television show Other content includes episodes of Robot Chicken Survivor South Park The Real World and movies such as Mission Impossible III Jackass The Movie Superman Returns and Batman Forever among many others.

Although Microsoft has not yet announced pricing for the shows and movies that will be available for the Xbox, Moore said pricing will be competitive with existing services. For example, Apple's iTunes store now sells individual TV show episodes for $1.99 each. TV shows for the Xbox will be available for purchase only and movies will be rental only because the Xbox 360's diminutive 20GB hard disk is woefully small for holding high definition (HD) video content, which can occupy many gigabytes per hour of video. Also, users can't burn content they download to an Xbox 360 to DVD or copy it to a portable device.

Why is this a big deal? Whereas other services are PC oriented, the Xbox 360 is typically connected to the biggest TV screen and best stereo system in the house. Consequently, customers will be able to able to enjoy TV and movie content often in HD in their living rooms and need not watch hunched over a small PC or iPod screen.

As for Sony, that company's executives admit they have nothing comparable to offer. However, Sony says that the PS3 is fully capable of downloading and displaying TV shows and movies and left open the possibility that it could add that functionality at some point in the future. For now, TV and movie content is yet another major advantage the Xbox 360 enjoys over the PS3.

Microsoft Takes Virtual Earth to the Next Dimension

Microsoft's amazing Virtual Earth mapping service received a revolutionary upgrade this week, taking its bird's eye imagery into brand new 3D territory. The new feature, dubbed Virtual Earth 3D, lets users navigate through select US cities and eventually other cities from around the world by using an amazing texture mapped near photographic 3D interface that emulates the experience of viewing a city from a low flying plane.

"By helping people visualize information in far more useful and intuitive ways, Virtual Earth 3D takes search to an entirely new level," says Microsoft Chairman, Bill Gates. "The immersive 3D experience provides a more powerful and engaging interface that delivers better experiences not only for consumers but also for developers and advertisers."

This service is one of those "see it to believe it" things. As you navigate around one of the supported cities (there are currently 15: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas and Fort Worth, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle) you can access such features as real time traffic information. Advertising is particularly amazing. It's provided on billboards set in each city on the top or sides of buildings and in other similar locations.

Go check this one out! To access Virtual Earth 3D, navigate to the Windows Live Local Search service. You will need to use Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) and install some local components. Prepare to be amazed!