Project Natal gets a date, but not a price tag

The Xbox 360 add-on is aimed for a holiday release, as had been expected. Redmond also touts Windows 7 sales numbers and shows off the latest PCs, including an HP tablet.

Microsoft touts Windows 7 in a giant billboard outside the Las Vegas Convention Center. Ina Fried/CNET

LAS VEGAS--If one of the yardsticks in Sin City is how much skin you show, Microsoft is being rather modest this year.

The world's largest software maker is promising that its highly anticipated Project Natal add-on for the Xbox 360 will ship in time for the 2010 holiday-shopping season , but Microsoft isn't saying how much it will cost or what game titles will accompany its release.

CEO Steve Ballmer--whose keynote was delayed because of a power problem at the Hilton Center--also showed off a number of new PCs, including an HP tablet due out later this year. But Microsoft isn't sharing the specifications of the diminutive slate or its cost.

And on the mobile front, Microsoft is choosing to show off a new Windows Mobile 6.5 device from HTC rather than talk about its next-generation operating system, the oft-delayed Windows Mobile 7.

As for what Microsoft will talk about, the company is happy to talk about how well Windows 7 is doing, noting that PC sales this holiday were up more than 50 percent from a year ago, according to NPD. The company will also say that Windows 7 is "by far" the fastest-selling operating system in its history, though it's not giving a total sales figure.

The software maker will also rattle off some sales numbers on Xbox, noting that it has now sold 39 million Xbox 360 consoles and has 20 million active members for its Xbox Live online service. During the week between Christmas and New Year's, Microsoft said it added a new member every second and at one point reached 2.2 million concurrent users.

The company is also adding a new feature to Xbox Live, called Game Room, that will allow subscribers to download classic stand-up and console games and create a virtual arcade that they can use and invite friends to.

In the keynote, Ballmer and Robbie Bach also talked a good deal about the growing role for natural interfaces such as touch, gestures, and speech.

"It opens it up to consumers who might have been a little more intimidated, maybe not as comfortable (with technology)," Bach said in an interview. "When things come naturally, they literally do come naturally. People start to explore more; they start to reach out to do new things. Suddenly people are open and excited to doing more."

Microsoft also announced the next version of Mediaroom, the Microsoft technology that allows carriers like AT&T to send television programming over traditional Internet networks. Mediaroom 2.0 will allow PCs to get such content without needing a separate set-top box. Users will also be able to move content onto other devices, such as a Windows Mobile phone. AT&T, whose U-verse service uses Mediaroom, will also start allowing customers to use their Xbox 360 as a set-top box, a capability that Microsoft had said for some time would be possible with Mediaroom.

The company is also announcing an expansion of its deal with HP to make Bing the default search engine on new PCs. Under the expanded deal, Bing will be the default on business and consumer machines in the U.S. and more than 40 other countries. An earlier deal was limited to consumer PCs in the U.S. and Canada.

While that may be the bulk of things on the news front, this is a Vegas show and at least half the fun is the production itself. Click here for CNET's live coverage of Ballmer's keynote , including any surprises, celebrity sightings, and the obligatory humor videos.

 

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