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Gaming

Microsoft sets stage for Xbox 2

Executive shows new services, bashes rival Sony's Cell chip at game developer confab.

SAN FRANCISCO--You can dazzle 'em with technical details, but if you really want to get developers on your side, try giving away 1,000 flat-screen TVs.

That was Microsoft's strategy on Wednesday, as Vice President J. Allard offered a few details on the next version of the company's Xbox video game console during a speech at the Game Developers Conference here.

Allard showed a few software and online service changes planned for the next Xbox, code-named Xenon. In the main, though, he stuck to big-picture themes, particularly the shift of video entertainment to high-definition content.

TV programming, DVDs and other forms of video will all be dazzling consumers with HDTV content within a few years, Allard said, and video game creators will have to provide an equal level of visual detail and graphics razzle-dazzle to stay competitive.

"The trend is more than just resolution," Allard said. "It's going to change the way people play games."

To drive home the point, he concluded his speech by inviting a Samsung representative on stage to give away 1,000 HDTV sets.

Allard also gave a sneak peek at the unified interface that will be used by all next-generation Xbox games, which promises to provide a central location for players to connect over the Internet and to access music stored on the console. The interface will also serve as a gateway to a planned mini-transaction system that would enable players to buy small chunks of downloadable content, such as a new car for a racing game or fashion accessories for a character.

"You can sell a 5-cent tattoo, and not have to worry about the transaction cost," Allard said.

Allard had less to say on the technical side, saying Microsoft will spill the beans on Xenon on at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade show in May. He did promise that the main multicore processor being developed by IBM or Xenon will have plenty of horsepower.

"It will deliver over a teraflop (one trillion calculations per second) of targeted computing performance," he said. That performance would put it just a bit short of a modern supercomputer.

Allard also took a few digs at competitor Sony and its recent promotion of the Cell processor, which will power the next version of its PlayStation game machine. Allard suggested the novel design of Cell will be an obstacle to game developers.

"You can design your hardware to win at science fairs...and woo over electrical engineers," he said, "or you can design for developers."

"We designed the hardware with you in mind," he continued. "Our approach is Bruce Lee, not brute force."