IPTV Still on Tap for Xbox 360

Microsoft this week confirmed plans to launch its Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) platform for TV service providers by the end of the year — but downplayed reports that the feature would be enabled by default through an upcoming update to its Xbox 360 game console.

The confirmation comes largely in response to widespread reports that an Xbox 360 user’s console — recently returned from being serviced by Microsoft — included previously unseen interface changes that indicated support for IPTV capabilities, a feature that Microsoft has long promised. Within days, gaming sites were abuzz with rumors that the new features gave an early look at a soon-to-be-released software update for the Xbox 360.

But Microsoft dismissed those rumors, saying that IPTV functionality is unrelated to the pending software update. Instead, the software giant said TV functionality would be soon enabled by way of its Mediaroom product, an offering targeting broadband companies who wish to deploy television services over their networks.

“IPTV features will only be available from the Xbox 360 through a service provider who has deployed Xbox 360 with Microsoft Mediaroom (IPTV) services,” the spokesperson said in a statement e-mailed to InternetNews.com. “Microsoft Mediaroom … will be available to service providers by the end of the year. Microsoft’s IPTV service providers will ultimately determine the timing of Xbox 360 with Microsoft Mediaroom deployments.”

“This was an isolated incident where these features were inadvertently exposed while the customer’s console was being serviced and is unrelated to the Fall Update,” the spokesperson added.

Despite perhaps dashing the hopes of Xbox 360 owners for immediate access to IPTV features, the confirmation does give an update on Microsoft’s IPTV plans for the game console, which is being closely watched by both the game console and broadband TV industries.

“As the Xbox 360 evolves, it becomes a more interesting target,” Roger Kay, president of consultancy Endpoint Technologies, told InternetNews.com. “IPTV is going to be huge, so it’s important for Microsoft to get it established [on Xbox 360] since it’s Microsoft’s own platform.”

During his keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced that IPTV features on Xbox 360 consoles would be available to consumers in time for this year’s holiday season. Now, however, it seems the timing on those capabilities will be determined instead by Microsoft’s provider partners.

Mediaroom, which had initially been called “Microsoft TV IPTV Edition,” emerged in its current (and less confusingly named) form in June.

The idea behind the product is to provide typical cable or satellite TV features to broadband companies such as telecom players, who are increasingly seeking to launch new TV services. Already, Microsoft has signed up licensees including AT&T U-Verse, BT Deutsche Telekom and Swisscom.

With the planned enhancements to Mediaroom, the product will also make the Xbox 360 not only the home’s gaming center, but also a media hub and a processing point for combining Web functions with IPTV-based digital television.

For instance, Mediaroom will add personal video recorder and cable set-top box features to the console. In addition to in-home photo and music sharing capabilities, it will also enable fast channel surfing, picture-in-picture channel “browsing,” program recording, video on demand, and program search, according to Microsoft statements online.

Of course, end users will only have access to those features if their broadband ISP chooses to support them.

For it’s part, Microsoft has touted scenarios that it thinks will be compelling to users. For instance, a consumer might be watching a televised football game and decide to simultaneously play an online multi-user video game — or launch voice chatting features to talk with friends watching the game elsewhere.

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