Two days before the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) kicks off in Los Angeles, Microsoft announced a bevy of upcoming game titles and its Digital Entertainment Lifestyle initiative for the Xbox, the number two video game console. During a media briefing, the software giant said Monday that these new games--which include 50 titles being published this holiday season alone--and its successful Xbox Live online game service, with over 500,000 subscribers, demonstrate that the oft-maligned Xbox is not only alive and well but thriving.

"Great games are at the heart of our Digital Entertainment Lifestyle vision," said Ed Fries, the vice president for game content at Microsoft. "And at Xbox, we're committed to the most ambitious expansion ever of what video games can be." The company also announced a new line of sports titles which will be marketed under the XSN Sports moniker and utilize online leagues with real human opponents at XSNSports.com, a Web-based service that complements Xbox Live. Upcoming Microsoft Game Studios games for Xbox include "Project Gotham Racing 2," "Grabbed by the Ghoulies," "Counter-Strike," "Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge," "Fable," and, in 2004, the long-awaited "Halo 2," which will be previewed at E3.

Many of Microsoft's Xbox advances center on Xbox Live, which will be upgraded this fall with new tools. One new feature called Live Now will let Xbox Live subscribers use the service's bundled headset to chat with other players online through the Xbox without having a game in the machine. Another tool, Live Web, will let people check player rankings on live Web sites and see who's online playing games. Another tool, Live Alerts, will allow Xbox Live subscribers to send game challenges and even play games through Internet-capable cell phones, PDAs, and any other device that's compatible with MSN Alerts technology. None of these new tools add to the cost of Xbox Live, which comes with a $50-per-year subscription fee.

Finally, Microsoft will also soon release a $40 Xbox add-on called Music Mixer, which turns the console into a media player, karaoke machine, and photo slideshow viewer, using content streamed over a home network from your PC.  It comes bundled with a microphone and it features karaoke capabilities that let you strip out the lead vocals from any song and sing it yourself. You know, if you're into that kind of thing.