Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., speaks about the Xbox 360 system during his keynote address at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nev., on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Gamers, get your wallets ready. According to reports from The Verge and Microsoft-centric blogger Paul Thurrott, Microsoft is gearing up to release its next-generation Xbox by the end of next month.

The reports, which cite unnamed “sources familiar” with the plans, say that the new console will debut on May 21. The console, nicknamed the Xbox 720 as a nod to its predecessor the 360, has been the subject of rumors for a long time. But it is widely expected to come to light this spring — particularly following Sony’s February announcement about what will be the Xbox’s top competitor, the PlayStation 4.

Thurrott said that he believes the console will cost around $500, though he added there may possibly be a $300 subscription version of the console.

Microsoft hasn’t said much about what the next Xbox will be like, but the company did announce Monday that it has sold its Mediaroom TV software unit to Ericsson in order to focus more closely on developing the Xbox’s TV services.

Mediaroom, a Microsoft property that powers services for set-top, on-demand boxes, will continue to operate with the same services under Ericsson’s management, the companies said — meaning that consumers shouldn’t have to worry about too many major changes to Mediaroom services such as AT&T U-Verse.

Microsoft has made no secret of the fact that it views the Xbox as a device that goes far beyond gaming, and has made a concerted effort to expand its video and other offerings to make the Xbox more of an entertainment hub than a video game console.

While there have been few concrete details about what the next Xbox will hold, there has been a great deal of discussion about rumored features and specifications. Most recently, reports that the new Xbox will require players to keep an Internet connection on at all times has sparked furious debate in the gaming world.

The idea that video game players will have to keep a connection on has been very unpopular, especially among gamers who note there are plenty of areas in the United States where high-speed Internet service is still spotty at best.

Microsoft Studio’s creative director Adam Orth contributed to the controversy last week, when he said that gamers should just deal with that fact that devices increasingly require an Internet connection to function. Orth later apologized for his comments, as CNET reported, saying that he was merely having a conversation with his friends.

Microsoft, for its part, apologized for Orth’s comments but did not shed any light on whether there’s any truth to the rumor.

“We are very sorry if this offended anyone, however we have not made any announcements about our product roadmap, and have no further comment on this matter,” the company said in an official statement posted to a company blog.

The rumored May event is expected to give consumers just a taste of what Microsoft will have to offer with the Xbox, with further details coming during the game industry’s June conference, the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

Related stories:

PlayStation 4: Sony announces it, but doesn’t show console

Microsoft to Facebook: We had the idea for ‘Home’ two years ago

Ericsson to buy Microsoft’s Mediaroom TV software unit; terms not disclosed

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