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Thursday, 29 March, 2001, 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK
Microsoft's X-Box goes online
The Rock and Bill Gates AP
Pro-wrestling's The Rock says he believes in the X-Box.
Microsoft's video games system, X-Box, is trying to steal a lead on its competitor Sony PlayStation 2 by being internet-enabled.

PlayStation II console BBC
The competition: Sony's PlayStation 2
Online gaming is already offered by Sega's Dreamcast, another one of X-Box's competitors, though production of this console will be halted by the end of this month.

Sony's PlayStation 2 has also been built with future networking and internet access in mind.

But Sony has said it will wait until broadband internet access is widely available before it equips its console with a modem.

Sony has predicted that a "broadband society" will arrive in 2005.

Japanese deal

In its internet gaming push, Microsoft has formed an alliance with the Japanese internet and telecoms company NTT Communications.

Together, the two companies will develop internet access via the X-Box, facilitate games distribution and other high-speed services, and make it possible for Japanese customers to play games over the net.

"The key part of the deal is enabling online gaming," according to the man in charge of Microsoft's new game platform, Robert Bach.

"We will have games in which thousands of people are playing against each other or playing with each other," he said.

"We believe this new service will contribute to the popularisation of broadband [in Japan]," said NTT Communications president Masanobu Suzuki.

Big in Japan

Microsoft believes the Japanese market offers great growth potential.

What's in the X-Box?
733MHz CPU
250MHz custom-built graphics processor
64Mb memory
4x DVD
8Gb hard disk
64 audio channels
"In Japan, online gaming has been relatively undeveloped," said Mr Bach.

Online gaming trials will start later this year and online services will be launched next year, said Mr Bach.

The deal with NTT is seen as part of the games makers' search for new and alternative distribution methods for their products.

"People are looking for what is going to make the next generation of online gaming, and jumping ahead is critical, said Mr Bach.

Mobile phone networking

Microsoft's rival Sony has not yet announced plans to link its PlayStation 2 with its internet service provider subsidiary.

X-Box PA
The X-Box is described as an "extended PC" by Bill Gates.
But Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) and Japanese mobile phone giant NTT DoCoMo recently announced plans to launch Playstation games on to mobile phones.

The idea is that owners of NTT DoCoMo's i-mode internet phone will be able to turn to their phones in spare moments to play Playstation 2 games.

And players will be able to compete with each other whether they are connected to a phone, a personal computer or a television.

"We hope to be a catalyst for the mobile network era," said SCE's Yoshiko Furusawa.

Sony mobile handsets

On Thursday, Sony announced plans to upgrade its mobile phone handset operations and focus more on mobile computing products.

The stakes in Microsoft's head-to-head battle with Sony are great: the world console market is estimated to be worth $20bn a year.

Microsoft says it will spend $500m to market X-Box in its first year.

Merrill Lynch analyst Henry Blodget believes it will cost the company $2bn to bring the X-Box to the market over the next five years before the project breaks even.

When X-Box was launched, Microsoft made much of its abilities to offer high-quality graphics and, the company claimed, better game quality than PlayStation 2.

"I'm talking about an extended PC - a PC that talks to the TV set-top box, talks to the music player devices, co-ordinates with other PCs," Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said at the time.

The X-Box features four game controller ports, a DVD tray and may allow players to connect voice-activated headsets.

It has an "X" moulded into the top of a sleek black box and a circular lime-green logo fixed in the X's centre.

Microsoft claims it can deliver three times the graphics performance of its rivals.

The X-Box console is scheduled to go on sale in the United States and Japan later this year, and in Europe early in 2002.

NTT Communications is a wholly owned internet and long-distance calling service arm of the telecoms carrier Nippon Telegraph, while NTT DoCoMo is 64% owned by the group.

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See also:

24 Nov 00 | Entertainment
PlayStation2 : The review
29 Jan 01 | Business
Playstation goes mobile
12 Mar 01 | Business
IBM wins Playstation 3 contract
23 Jan 01 | Business
Sega linked to Playstation, XBox
07 Jan 01 | Business
Gates unveils Playstation rival
31 Jan 01 | Business
Sega scraps the Dreamcast
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