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MS takes X-box to digital VCR market

Watch out, Tivo, ReplayTV...

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Microsoft is re-engineering its X-box spec. to provide the games console with digital VCR functionality, sources close to the machine's development have claimed.

According to a revised specification apparently leaked to X-box 365, Microsoft's games division has upped the console's hard drive capacity from 8GB to 40GB.

Big deal, you might well think. Hard drives are getting cheaper, and since device specs. tend to be pretty flexible until the eleventh hour, you'd expect some changes in the basic hardware configuration.

In this case, however, Microsoft's motivation is more about functionality than beefing up the console. The leaked spec. shows the extra disk space will be used to provide X-box with the same kind of features as Tivo and ReplayTV currently offer.

Both machines allow users to record TV programmes when they're out or watching something else - or even begin viewing a show in full shortly after it has started. Both can be programmed from Web-published TV listing sites, ensuring they're even easier to record with than VideoPlus-equipped VCRs. Better still, they can be set up to zap the ad breaks.

Digital 'watch when you want to watch' devices are believed by many media pundits to herald a major change in peoples' TV viewing habits, and clearly the ever more media focused Microsoft wants a piece of the action.

It also provides X-box with the gimmick 'non-gaming feature' that seems so essential in the console market these days, the equivalent of Dreamcast's Net access and PlayStation 2's built-in DVD player, all aimed at attracting consumers who wouldn't otherwise be interested in a games console.

X-box365 reckons the digital VCR functionality will cost around $16 per unit to implement, but since using it will require a $20 per month subscription to MSN - Tivo and ReplayTV also require user to subscribe to their Web-based TV listings services - adding the digital VCR chip is a no-brainer. Particularly since Microsoft is desperate to take Sony head on in the home.

Of course, Microsoft's consumer division is known to be working on a digital VCR set-top box already, as we reported here, so it's not clear whether the leaker has got his or her specifications in a muddle, confusing Box Y with Box X, as it were, or Microsoft has decided to combine the two development projects.

The set-top box programme is being jointly developed with Thomson and Philips, so perhaps these two consumer electronics companies will become X-box manufacturers and possibly even licensees. ®

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