Microsoft E3 keynote address was full of surprises.

I’m not an Xbox 360 owner myself, but if you are then the Microsoft E3 keynote address yesterday gave you a lot of things to look forward to in the coming months.

One of the biggest announcements was probably the fall update coming for Xbox Live which will radically alter how it looks—my sister-in-law’s better half called it “Vista-esque”—and adds things such as Nintendo Mii-ish like avatars, which seems like a pretty transparent ploy to try and counter the aforementioned Miis and the upcoming Playstation Home. Nintendo has certainly captured a lot of the casual gaming market and Microsoft is setting their sights on trying to claim some of that for themselves. The new avatars and a whole bunch of more causal oriented games coming soon are the result. Quite a few new features are aimed at encouraging social interactions with your friends online including being able to enter a multi-chat environment using your avatars as well as move from game to game as a group (assuming you all have the same game).

They also announced new deals for downloadable movies and videos with NBC/Universal and Netflix. Xbox Live Gold members who also have active Netflix accounts will be able to access their Netflix Watch Now queue to stream movies straight to their Xbox 360 at no extra charge. Additionally you’ll be able to share those streaming videos with your friends using the previously mentioned avatar social tools. Alas those buddies will also have to be Gold members and have Netflix accounts to participate.

Three other announcements worth noting include the fact that soon you’ll be able to copy an entire game off of DVD onto the Xbox 360 hard drive, assuming you have one, and run it from there to speed up load times. You’ll still need to have your disc in the drive to play, but if load times are a concern then this should help. Of course this means you’ll be using up lots more hard drive space so they’re dropping the 20GB version of the 360 and replacing it with a 60GB version. The last, and probably biggest, announcement was that the Xbox 360 will be getting a port of Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy XIII, which was believed to be a PS3 exclusive.

I’ve got to give Microsoft credit for managing to diminish some of the titles that were big Playstation hardware sellers in the past. Grand Theft Auto IV and now Final Fantasy XII would’ve likely sold a shitload of PS3s had they remained exclusives like the previous versions had. For some strange reason Sony hasn’t focused on spending any money to secure exclusive titles for the PS3 as it has in the past and it’s probably cost them some hardware sales as a result. It’ll be interesting to see what Sony has to say in their upcoming E3 keynote to try and put a little momentum behind their flagship product.



Netflix to drop HD-DVD, go Blu-ray only for HD.

Toshiba’s been trying to stay in the fight by slashing prices on HD-DVD players, but more and more companies are announcing their plans to drop HD-DVD and support Blu-ray exclusively with the folks at Netflix being the latest:

Netflix has stocked DVDs using both Blu-ray and the competing HD DVD format developed by Toshiba Corp since they first came on the market in early 2006.

Four out of six major Hollywood studios have recently decided to publish high-definition DVDs only using Blu-ray.

Netflix said that with such a clear signal from the industry, it will only buy Blu-ray discs going forward and will phase out stock of HD DVD by about the end of the year.

Make that one more nail in HD-DVD’s coffin.