Xbox Extras: Look, Mom, No Controller!

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Microsoft’s push to make the Xbox 360 a core home-entertainment accessory — one that’s far cooler than a cable set-top — continues.

The company teased several new tricks for the Xbox 360 at the E3 gaming conference Monday, including 1080p HD streaming video to launch this fall; Facebook, Twitter and Last.fm on the TV; and a “controller-free” way to control a videogame.

With Project Natal (pronounced “nuh-tall”) Microsoft is trying to do Nintendo’s Wii motion-sensitive controller one better: The system uses a camera to sense your full-body movements and facial- and voice-recognition software to let you kick a ball, steer a race car, or literally call in a football play. (Watch a video demo on the Xbox site or on YouTube.)

Microsoft expects the Project Natal system (named after a city on the northeastern coast of Brazil) to be available next year but didn’t indicate how much it would cost.

But if it actually works, it might be the next great leap forward in TV interfaces — perhaps hunting for the remote control, or replacing batteries, would go the way of the rotary phone. (See our May 25 cover story, Remote Revolution.)

Meanwhile, Microsoft announced that Xbox would deliver “instant on” 1080p HD movies and TV shows with 5.1 surround sound over the Internet to consoles connected to compatible HDTVs. The company didn’t name specific titles but promised a “broad selection” starting this fall.

Microsoft also announced Xbox Live Party for movies, which allows people across the country to watch the same movie at the same time. The feature will be available through the Netflix-on-Xbox feature, to let users watch and share supported movies with up to seven friends. You can “recommend your favorites to friends and see your virtual you as an avatar on the silver screen.”

And in partnership with BSkyB, Xbox 360 users can now watch live or on-demand TV, including Sky Sports, available to subscribers across the U.K. and Ireland.

Oh, yeah: Microsoft also debuted 10 new games, including “Halo 3: ODST” and “The Beatles: Rock Band.”

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