Microsoft Xbox Live Upgraded Before Start of Console War

Microsoft, the world’s largest software producer and maker of the popular Xbox 360 gaming console, on Monday said it would launch its latest enhancements to its Xbox Live online game service on Halloween, Oct. 31, and the boost will be the service’s sixth major upgrade, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Among the new features included with the upgrade is support for high-definition 1080p video playback—compared to the 720 previously supported—an improved, faster interface for the Live Arcade service, and streaming video capabilities for Windows PCs running either Windows Media Player 11 or Windows Media Connect, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The enhancements—roughly 85 or so—are available free of charge to gold and silver Xbox Live members, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and a complete list can be located on the Xbox site.

Microsoft Xbox 360 with HD DVD add-on drive
Xbox 360 & HD DVD

The boost in support for HD video to 1080p is notable not only because it will enable Xbox 360 users to view games designed for such high quality in their optimal state, but also because Microsoft plans to release an Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on drive in Japan in November. That drive will retail for about 19,800 yen (US$168).

Users of Xbox Live’s Live Arcade Web locale will now be able to access new games faster than in the past, and users will be able to navigate titles via “recently played” and “by category” options, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Titles will be able to be downloaded automatically without searching by names, and gaming buddies will have the option of keeping tabs on each others’ scores or progress on a leaderboard, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The enhancements come at a time when Microsoft is readying for a war over supremacy in the console space with Sony, which plans to launch its much-anticipated PlayStation 3 console on Nov. 17, and Nintendo, which expects to debut its new gaming offering, Wii, a few days later.

Microsoft will not, however, cut the price it charges for its Xbox 360 system, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. A base Xbox 360 system sells for around $299, and the high-end version retails for $399. Sony plans to sell PlayStation 3 in two versions as well: a $499 version and a $599 version, both of which will feature built-in Blu-ray DVD drives. Nintendo Wii will retail for $250.

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