Games are only a small thread in the geek tapestry that makes up the Consumer Electronics Show, so I didn't go into Steve Ballmer's keynote speech expecting revelations and bomb-drops of the video game variety. Still, there were rumors floating around of a possible CES reveal of the next generation of Xbox, so some part of me was hoping for something amazing. That part of me ended up sad -- it didn't happen. The Xbox 720 or 360 2 may well be in development, but if it is, Ballmer didn't mention anything at CES 2012.
Microsoft has been delivering the CES keynote since Bill Gates first dropped Gatesian wisdom back in 1995, but the company recently revealed that it is taking a little break from the keynote -- 2013, and perhaps many years to follow, will come without Microsoft's speech. Rather than going out with a bang, though, Ballmer and Microsoft went out with a whimper, at least when it comes to Xbox and their gaming division.
Instead of news about games, Ballmer mostly showed off Windows 8. W8 (or, "Wait" as I call it), is the scaleable Operating System Microsoft is planning to release. The idea is to create an OS that syncs together your tablet, phone, desktop, laptop, 360 and whatever else seamlessly. It looked great up there on stage, especially when shown off by guest host/handsome-guy Ryan Seacrest, but I'll reserve judgement until I see it actually working in the wild.
"Yeah, terrific, but what about gaming?" you're probably saying. Well, as previously mentioned, Microsoft did not reveal any new gaming hardware, choosing instead to show off the latest update to the 360, an update gamers are already familiar with, as it's been live for over a month.
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Craig Davidson from Xbox Live took the stage to show off the "Metro User Interface" that graces your 360, but the CES focus was strictly on passive entertainment consumption as opposed to playing games. The idea is to "transform the way you watch TV," and Davidson displayed the system's ability to search through voice commands by asking for a geeky movie.
"Xbox: Bing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," Davidson commanded, seemingly trying to force the world to accept "Bing" as a verb like "Google."
The Xbox responded correctly, finding the movie through Zune and playing the video. I've been yelling at my television for years now, so it'll be nice to have it answer me finally. Quieter viewers will be able to control their TV-watching with their windows phone in the coming months, which isn't too shabby either.
Davidson also revealed a new, interesting partnership. Media giant News Corp. will now be showing up on Xbox, meaning you'll soon be able to watch both Family Guy and Fox News from your console, as well as a ton of other Fox content. Not only that, you'll also soon be able to view Comcast Xfinity content on your 360 as well.
For you PC users out there who have been anxious to try out Kinect, the motion control camera device will be available for PCs beginning February 1.
Kinect was also the focus of another interesting demo during the keynote. In keeping with the theme of Xbox as a family-entertainment-device, a Kinect-enhanced version of Sesame Street was shown off. This wasn't a Sesame Street game. Instead, it was a version of the show that you could influence using the Kinect.
While Sesame Street is clearly geared toward the under 6 set, using Kinect to interact with a TV show could have some interesting implications if used for more serious artistic purposes than entertaining toddlers. While the demo showed off a youngster helping Grover collect potatoes, I couldn't help picturing a version of the movie Seven that forced you to actually open the dreaded box right alongside Brad Pitt. In the right (wrong?) hands, Kinect-powered TV could be really cool.
After Elmo and Company went back where they came from, the "Tweet Choir," a full gospel choir who sing tweets, took the stage. They did their thing, then Ballmer and Seacrest returned. To close out the show, Seacrest asked the CEO what was next for Microsoft, and Ballmer replied with a hearty, "Windows 8 is next!" and so ended perhaps the final Microsoft CES keynote address.
Here's hoping we hear about the next-gen Xbox at E3!