Will the Microsoft Set-Top Box Ever See the Light of Day?

We recently reported that Microsoft has scheduled a May 21 event to launch its next generation Xbox console (we’ll have details next week). Another piece of hardware has also been in development, but its future is less certain. Microsoft has been working on a set-top device for streaming video and other entertainment media, including a version that uses Kinect motion-control technology. However, it is not clear whether the product will be released.

“Microsoft intends to create common experiences among multiple products running its software, people familiar with the matter said, similar to how Apple has forged connections between its iPhone, iPad, Mac computer and Apple TV set-top box,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 was initially offered in 2005 for $299, and currently starts at $199 (or $99 with a subscription to Xbox Live). However, set-top boxes are generally priced lower than most game consoles. A Microsoft STB would compete with streaming media products such as the $99 Apple TV and Roku models that start at $49.

“A Microsoft set-top box could present a less expensive route than the Xbox for customers to sign on to Xbox Live,” notes the article. “On the other hand, a $99 Xbox could sap demand for a set-top box, one of the people said.”

Game consoles are increasingly used by consumers for accessing media content beyond gaming. Netflix, for example, recently announced that Sony’s PlayStation 3 is the most popular device for streaming the service’s video offerings.

“Sony plans to introduce an updated console for the year-end holiday season,” explains WSJ. “The PlayStation 4 will include connections to an Internet service that can run videogame titles from remote servers, streaming the content to players’ screens. Sony also will allow customers to upload recordings of their game play to social networks, using a new ‘share’ button.”

While Microsoft has reportedly been developing its STB, the company has also been putting a great deal of resources into its Xbox operation and rebranding entertainment offerings such as Xbox Music. It has also been working to make the creation of applications and games simpler, so it will become “easy to write a program that can work on an Xbox, a smartphone or a Windows personal computer running Microsoft’s software,” suggests the article.