-- Microsoft Corp. went on the offensive Tuesday in the video game console wars with a barrage of announcements, including a new external HD DVD player for its Xbox 360 platform and an initiative to open up its Xbox Live online gaming and communication service, allowing gamers to play with users on PCs and cell phones.
The announcements capped a big day at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, known as E3, the world's largest video game conference.
In other news from the conference, Nintendo executives showed off a wide array of games that tap the potential of the innovative, motion-sensing controller for the company's latest gaming platform, Wii. And game developers began displaying next-generation wares that will run on the Xbox 360, Sony's PlayStation 3 and the Wii.
But the biggest news came from Microsoft, which covered all its bases -- hardware, software and online connectivity -- in a broad attempt to maintain a competitive advantage for its Xbox 360. The console, which launched in November, will eclipse the 10-million-sold mark by the time Sony and Nintendo's consoles reach the market this fall.
Peter Moore, Microsoft's corporate vice president for interactive entertainment, announced a new external HD DVD player for the Xbox 360 that will ship by the holiday season. The player, which does not have a price yet, is Microsoft's answer to Sony's next-generation Blu-ray DVD player that will ship with the PlayStation 3.
The pressure is on both Microsoft and Sony to win the format war, in effect adding immediate value to their gaming platforms while simultaneously rendering their rival's systems partially obsolete.
Bill Gates made his first-ever appearance at E3 on Tuesday to talk about Microsoft's online gaming strategy, which will span multiple platforms for the first time.
Dubbed Live Anywhere, the service extends Xbox Live's online communications and online gaming capabilities to personal computers running the next Windows platform, Vista, as well as cell phones running Windows Mobile.
Now users can take their gamer tag with them wherever they are, communicate across platforms to users on their friend list and, in the case of games that appear both on the PC and console, play heads-up for the first time.
Halo 2 players will soon be able to go at it and decide if the PC or Xbox 360 is the better platform for games. And users will also be able to buy new content like weapons, levels or enhancements from any of the devices for their online games.
"Anywhere Live means you will have one online community as you move from one device to another," Gates said.
The service will become available sometime next year when Microsoft ships Vista.
Microsoft's Moore also announced a software coup by striking a deal to release the game Grand Theft Auto IV on the Xbox 360, when it premieres Oct. 16, 2007. One of the best-selling games of all time, Grand Theft Auto III appeared first on the PlayStation 2, two years before it made its way to the Xbox.
The company showed off some new games, such as Gears of War, a bloody first-person shooter, and Viva Piñata, a cartoon game where a player takes care of a piñata animal. Microsoft also added titles to its Xbox Live Arcade vault, including classic titles like Pac Man, Frogger, Contra and Sonic the Hedgehog.
After Sony's announcement Monday that its forthcoming PlayStation 3 would cost $499, American Technology Research analyst P.J. McNealy said that Microsoft did a good job keeping pressure on Sony.
"I think the door was left wide open for Microsoft, and they put up a strong argument for why they're going to do well in this cycle," McNealy said.
Nintendo also flexed its muscles Tuesday in a presentation long on demonstrations and visuals and short on details. The company did not release a price or a launch date for the Wii, but said it will be sold in the fourth quarter.
Most of Nintendo's presentation involved showing off the Wii controller, which has motion-sensing capabilities built into both the left- and right-handed controllers. Nintendo executives such as President Satoru Iwata and game designer Shigeru Miyamoto helped demonstrate the functions of the controller, at one point playing a virtual game of tennis.
Flick a wrist and the right-handed controller can serve a tennis ball. Hold it like a baton and you can conduct a virtual symphony. Yank back on it and you can reel in a bass.
Other demonstrations included a sneak peak at Red Steel, a new title that allows a player to slash and parry with a samurai sword using the controller.