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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Following yesterday's sizeable portion of speculation cake, we can confirm today that Microsoft has teamed up with BSkyB to bring Sky Player to the Xbox 360 in the UK and Ireland.

We got an early hands-on with the new service yesterday, and came away genuinely impressed. At least for the most part. Subscribers will be able to stream a heap of Sky channels live (details of which will be announced closer to the launch), as well as pay-per-view shows and movies.

So how does it work?

The new Sky channel in Xbox Live appears under the Video Marketplace heading. From there, you can choose to browse on-demand movies, sport and entertainment, watch live TV or browse all content by channel or genre. And of course there's a programme guide.

The interface is lush, painted with buckets of blue of various shades, and it navigates exactly like the rest of Xbox Live. And in our demo, image quality of streamed video was excellent considering the service's largest caveat: all content is in standard definition. Sadly, no HD content is available, and everything is streamed, so kiss a sweet toodle-pip to downloads for offline playback.

Is that it?

No, don't be a pillock, of course it's not. A collaborative sport-viewing interface allows you and several Xbox Live friends to watch manly jostling together. You'll be represented on-screen by your nerdy little Xbox avatar in a cute environment (pictures in the gallery that follows), with whatever game's playing on a screen in the background. Really, you need to see the pictures to get an idea of what this looks like.

Things like pricing and what channels will be available are details Microsoft couldn't discuss this week. But we'll keep you posted.

Until then, we'll remain impressed with what we've seen so far and patiently wait for further details -- and hopefully some HD content soon afterwards. Check out our hands-on photos over the next few pages.

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This is the main Sky Player landing page in Xbox Live.
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The movies homepage. You can browse by movie channel, genre or whatever's currently being featured.
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The Live TV option lets you pull up the EPG, or browse Sky's TV channels by name.
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Here's the EPG in action, giving some clues as to which channels will be available on the service.
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That thumbnail showing the House of Commons is actually live TV, but look in the bottom right-hand corner. See that Xbox invite notification? That's showing one of your buddies asking you to watch the football with him.
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And here you and your chum are ready to watch the game.
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Here's the Sky Sports homepage. But what's this? News?
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Yup, that's some Sky Sports News action right there. Unbelievable, Jeff.
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How to make friends and alienate people (who don't like sport). This is the little screen for watching games with your Xbox Live mates.
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Finally, this wheel of emotion lets you cheer and taunt your online friends. We didn't see an option to 'take it outside, mate' and beat the shinola out of each other. But hey, it's early days. You could always just fire up Street Fighter IV.
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