Though many considered Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' keynote speech at the 2006 CES in Las Vegas might be relatively uninteresting for the video game business, in fact, Gates' wide-ranging speech held a number of notable announcements for game professionals.
Alongside a keynote highlighting the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system and a number of Windows media-related announcements, including Starz' Vongo video download service and MTV's Urge music download service, Gates discussed prospective sales numbers for the Xbox 360 console, suggesting that it is on track to be the fastest-selling video game console ever.
But, in perhaps the most major announcement, Microsoft's Peter Moore announced plans to deliver a new Xbox 360 external HD DVD drive peripheral in 2006. According to the company: "The new drive will offer millions of Xbox 360 owners the ability to easily enjoy HD DVD movies and will provide consumers with even more choices for experiencing high-definition content, in either physical or digital form." Pricing and precise launch date have yet to be set, but the announcement shows that Microsoft is particularly committed to the HD DVD format in opposition to the PlayStation 3's integrated Blu-Ray disc format, even if the Redmond giant needs to provide it in relatively unwieldy add-on drive form.
Regarding sales, the company's new forecast for the Xbox 360, according to the Microsoft co-founder, is for it to ship between 4.5 million and 5.5 million units worldwide by the end of June 2006. The company's previous estimates
had been for 2.5 million to 3 million consoles in the first 3 months after the late November launch, so this new figure seems somewhat more conservative, likely due to the continuing supply problems that have adversely affected the console's launch.
Gates also noted that Xbox 360 has also become a powerful application for high-definition television, adding that nine out of 10 Xbox 360 owners currently own or intend to purchase a high-definition television set. He announced that more than 50 Xbox 360 games will be available by June 2006, all of them HD-compatible.
The Microsoft Chairman's keynote also announced that more than half of all Xbox 360 owners are already connected to Xbox Live, which already boasts a worldwide community of more than 2 million members. Gates then demonstrated perhaps the most impressive looking Xbox 360 game to date, Electronic Arts' Fight Night Round 3
, which scheduled to ship in February 2006, and announced that a free, playable high-definition demo of the game is now available at the Xbox Live Marketplace.
Elsewhere in his keynote, and away from the console platform, Gates highlighted some of the most compelling consumer-oriented features of Microsoft's forthcoming Windows Vista operating system for the PC, and particularly showcased the Windows games platform by premiering Microsoft Games Studios' forthcoming Flight Simulator X
, the latest in the venerable Windows flight sim franchise.
In addition, Microsoft announced a broad agreement with U.S. satellite provider DirecTV Inc. that will open up new ways for consumers flow DirecTV content between Windows-based PCs, DirecTV devices, PlaysForSure-based portable media devices and the Xbox 360, though connectivity with the console will likely be via the Media Center PC functionality on a Windows PC.