Comcast and Verizon officially announced that they're hooking up with Microsoft to let TV customers use the Xbox 360 game console as a set-top box later this year -- but for now, Comcast subs will only be able to access video-on-demand content, while FiOS TV will offer just 26 "popular" channels rather than the full programming lineup.
AT&T U-verse TV has offered the Xbox-as-a-set-top option to customers, with access to all content and DVR recordings, since October 2010.
Comcast's Xfinity On Demand service will be available "in the coming months," according to a blog post by chief technology officer Tony Werner.
The cable operator's subscribers will be able to access "several thousand assets from our VOD library -- including top movies and premium cable," spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said.
Verizon and Comcast customers must take both TV and broadband services as well as subscribe to Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold service, which costs $60 per year, but otherwise the services are available for no extra charge.
Verizon, for its part, will offer a limited content selection of 26 live channels, including MTV, Spike, Food Network, Comedy Central, HBO, CNN and Nickelodeon. "We aim to have a diverse selection of popular channels," Verizon public relations director Bobbi Henson said.
The big advantage both Comcast and Verizon are touting is integration with Xbox Kinect, the "controller-less" attachment for the console, which lets users control screen activity with voice commands or gestures.
"Through our partnership with Microsoft, we'll offer our customers a unique and innovative way to discover, control and experience thousands of On Demand programs from leading networks and studios, using unique features like Kinect's voice and gesture controls," Werner said. "And, because Xfinity TV's Xbox experience is built on a private IP platform, we can deliver a more personal and integrated, next-generation experience."
Verizon similarly noted that using Xbox 360, "FiOS customers will be able to easily discover and enjoy content in extraordinary new ways, all without having to pick up a remote control."
"The Borderless Lifestyle is about erasing old technology boundaries and freeing consumers to enjoy entertainment on their own terms," Eric Bruno, Verizon vice president of consumer and mass business product management, said in a statement. "FiOS TV on the Xbox 360 will tap into the magic of Kinect to transform the way people interact with TV, providing a game-changing entertainment experience for our customers."
Both Comcast and Verizon will distribute the video programming to Xbox consoles via IP, delivered over their private broadband networks, so that customers will not need any additional hardware besides a broadband-connected Xbox. Verizon normally delivers FiOS TV linear channels to its own set-tops using digital cable QAM technology, as of course does Comcast.
Internationally, operators that provide video through Xbox include the U.K.'s Sky TV, France's Canal+, Australia's Foxtel and Canada's Telus. Microsoft also has lined up several content partners for Xbox, including ESPN, Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Broadly speaking, pay-TV operators' efforts to bring television programming to non-TV devices have regulatory implications. Multichannel video distribution providers argue that their efforts to deliver video to IP devices obviates the need for the Federal Communications Commission's proposed AllVid rules, which would force cable, telco and satellite TV operators to make programming available in a standard format to third-party devices.
"The Xbox experience also is more evidence that consumers can increasingly buy devices of their choosing at retail in order to access video content from a variety of sources, including video content from their multichannel video provider," Werner wrote.