Microsoft made two significant moves on Tuesday that aim to boost sales for its new Xbox One console while also making it easier (and cheaper) for users of the new console as well as the Xbox 360 to access Netflix, HBO Go and other entertainment apps.
On the apps end, Microsoft said that, starting in June, an Xbox Live Gold membership, which runs $60 per year, will no longer be required for most apps offered on the gaming platform, including Twitch, Vevo, HBO Go, Machinima, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, MLB.tv, Hulu Plus, Crackle, FoxNow, ESPN, FXNow and Vudu, as well as the live TV feature offered through the Xbox One’s OneGuide (when the console is connected to a traditional set-top via an HDMI port). TV Everywhere apps from Starz and EPIX, currently offered on the Xbox 360 with plans for Xbox One support underway, are expected to be part of the list of apps available without an Xbox Live Gold subscription.
The decision should lower barriers to entry for Xbox users that don’t use the platform for multiplayer gaming and other game-centric perks, but still want to use it as a video entertainment hub. It will also help Microsoft’s gaming platform stay more competitive with other platforms that don’t require additional subscriptions just to access general video streaming apps, including Sony’s PlayStation3 and PS4, Roku platform, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and low-cost alternative such as the Google Chromecast.
For those who stick with a Gold subscription, Microsoft said it will soon expand the number of titles offered through its Games with Gold program, and offer exclusive discounts to several titles.
Also on Tuesday, Microsoft said it will offer a version of the Xbox One for $399 that does not bundle in Kinect, its motion- and voice-based controller starting June 9 in all markets. The original Xbox One with the Kinect bundle, launched last November, sells for $499.
“To be clear, as we introduce this new Xbox One console option, Kinect remains an important part of our vision,” Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, wrote in this blog post announcing the changes. “If you buy Xbox One for $399 and later decide you want to have all the experiences Kinect enables, we will also offer a standalone sensor for Xbox One later this fall.”