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Microsoft Promises IPTV on Xbox for Christmas 2011

Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer told a convention center full of financial analysts that the company plans to offer live TV on the Xbox in time for the holiday season. That would give families another reason to put an Xbox 360 on their gift list, and it moves Internet-connected television further into the mainstream.

However, it was in January of 2007 that Microsoft first made this promise, and the company has dangled the possible integration at every Consumer Electronics Show since. He didn’t give any content specifics, but Ballmer did say it would be similar to what’s available via Xbox’s partnerships with Sky TV in the U.K., Canal Plus in France, and FoxTel in Australia. That would indicate several tiers of service starting with about 20 channels of live television, then adding premium packages and pay per view. Ballmer didn’t mention pricing, but as a guideline, in the U.K. Xbox TV costs £15 (about $24) to £40 (about $63) with premium sports extra. In Australia, the service starts at A$19.50 (just over $20).

Once again, the would-be TV provider isn’t naming any partners, but does say it will have ”dozens or hundreds of additional video content suppliers,” and that it will bring this service to market through the network operator channel (i.e. your cable provider). This follows last year’s launch of Xbox-as-a-set-top for AT&T’s U-verse service, which includes an unfortunate $99 fee to cover the necessary hardware upgrade.

Xbox Live already delivers content from online sources including Hulu, Netflix, Zune and Xbox Live Marketplace and more. Ballmer said he expects that the incorporation of Bing and Kinect will be a major differentiator from other services, since it means search and selection can be performed with voice and gestures.

“Having all of that content is right on, it’s fantastic, but it brings a new challenge with it,” Ballmer said. “Certainly we all know the frustrations of using guides and menus and controllers, and we think a better way to do all of this is simply to bring Bing and voice to Xbox. You say it, Xbox finds it.”

Unless it’s during a live demo, that is. When Microsoft’s Lisa Nelson said, “Xbox – Bing – The Office,” the service failed to find available episodes of NBC’s hit comedy.

It failed to do anything, in fact, leading Ballmer to joke, “It’s a good thing that’s shipping for Christmas.” All of the social capabilities of Xbox Live will be available while watching Xbox TV as well, he said. “The vision is kind of simple,” Ballmer explained. “You should have any entertainment you want with all the people you care about, really simply and on any screen.”