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Xbox 360 to play songs off iPods

But not DRM-protected tracks, natch

Microsoft has confirmed that the Xbox 360 will not play songs downloaded from Apple's iTunes Music Store because the Mac maker won't license its DRM technology, at least not for a price the software giant is willing to pay.

When the Xbox 360 was formally announced in May 2005, Microsoft said it was compatible with the iPod. Since then it has emerged that the console's control panel software allows music to be played off a USB 2.0-connected MP3 player.

Microsoft has its own Windows Media-based music player infrastructure, of course, but clearly the company believes there's value in ensuring Apple's player is supported too. Plug one into the console and the machine can display a list of artists, albums, songs and so on, and allow the user to select one to play.

But not iTMS-sourced songs, according to Scott Henson, a product unit manager with Microsoft's advanced-technology group, cited by a CNet report. "We do not have an official relationship with Apple for the iPod connectivity," said Henson.

The report also cites Xbox digital-entertainment executive producer Jeff Henshaw, who claimed Microsoft had approached Apple, but had been sent packing.

Anecdotal evidence suggests Apple isn't unwilling to license its FairPlay DRM technology, but it's very picky about how it will consider. Our sources indicate well-established hi-fi brands might be in with a chance.

Whatever, clearly the Xbox 360 isn't in the right league. Enabling base-line iPod compatibility is easy enough - they're essentially standard USB mass storage devices, the AAC audio format is part of the MPEG 4 standard, there are open source Apple Lossless decoders available, and numerous third-party utilities have figured out how the tracks are stored on the player - and so that's what Microsoft has done.

The Xbox 360 launches in the US in two weeks' time, on 22 November. It will arrive in Europe on 2 December. ®

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