Microsoft is making sweeping changes to its popular Xbox gaming console and the online service that pairs with it. Hayley Tsukayama reports:

Big changes are coming to the Xbox 360 dashboard, though Windows fans will likely find them oddly familiar.

The new layout is a complete departure from the design Microsoft introduced for the console in 2008 and instead embraces the “Metro” design elements now on Windows phones and planned for Windows 8. The unification works beautifully on the Xbox, eliminating the clunky flipcard design in favor of the tiles that make up the core of Metro’s design.

The real change to the dashboard, is not in its looks, but in the greatly expanded voice and motion control. Pulled way beyond the “Kinect Hub” on the current interface, users can use their hands and voices to navigate through the vast majority of Xbox menus. This expansion, combined with the console’s new Bing integration, has made searching for content on Xbox Live far more intuitive.

Users interested in taking in a flick with a particular actor can now search for that actor by simply telling their Kinect, “Bing Christian Bale” or “Bing Robert DeNiro.” Instead of having to search for something in each of the services on the platform, users will be able to see all mentions of that keyword in all content across all Xbox Live services. So a search for Christian Bale could theoretically bring up everything from “Batman Begins” on-demand to the soundtrack from “Newsies” from across several different services. Users can, of course, also type in their Bing searches through a controller-based menu.

Dean Takahashi of Venture Beat reports that Microsoft says the innovations are ‘the future of TV:’

Calling it the future of TV, Microsoft is unveiling of a user interface for the Xbox 360 console’s dashboard; it is also unveiling dozens of new options for watching movies and TV on the game box. And Microsoft has improved the quality of using voice commands to move from one choice to another on the box or to search through all of the entertainment options at your disposal in an instant.

The update is one of the biggest in the past five years for the Xbox 360 because Microsoft is trying to improve the experience of watching entertainment. It also includes cloud-based access and storage for gamers to improve the basic gaming experience.

Takashi also wrote:

You can use your voice to find the games, movies, TV shows and music. The results come back and then you can choose the service that can best deliver the entertainment to you at the lowest cost. Bing search on Xbox with voice commands will be available at first in English in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. Text search works if you don’t have Kinect. Microsoft has sold more than 57 million Xbox 360s and it has more than 35 million Xbox Live members.

Last month, FiOs customers saw changes to their Xbox Live offerings, as T.C. Sottek of The Verge wrote:

Microsoft said back in October that it would be teaming up with various TV partners to bring more streaming content to the Xbox, and Verizon's just announced that it will be adding 26 live channels to the Xbox Live TV for FiOS customers sometime in December. Kinect voice and gesture support will also be included, meaning that you'll be able to control things by speaking to your Xbox and waving about. The service will stream TV directly through the Xbox via a standalone application, without the need for a separate set-top box. 

To get the channels, customers will require an Xbox Live Gold membership and must be subscribed to FiOS TV and internet service plans which start at $89.99 a month. Verizon's sweetening the deal for new customers, though, with a  12-month Gold membership and a copy of Xbox Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary if they sign up by January 21st. Hopefully we'll know more about plans from Comcast and Microsoft's other partners when the Xbox Live update rolls out on December 6th

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