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Xbox Live update will bring Zune music streaming

Microsoft's E3 announcements for Xbox 360 include plans to offer Zune music streaming in addition to the existing video streaming services.

Zune music demo at E3 2010.
During a demo of the hands-free Kinect accessory for the Xbox 360, Microsoft shows off new Zune music streaming capabilities. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Microsoft's Zune music service is finally on its way to the Xbox 360. Announced today at E3 2010, a catalog of 7 million Zune Marketplace songs will be available for streaming on the Xbox 360 later this year, complementing existing Zune movie, TV, and music video content.

As shown during the E3 210 on-stage demo, Zune content will be compatible with the new hands-free Kinect accessory (formally known as project Natal), allowing users to navigate menus and control playback using their hands, as well as voice commands. The Kinect is not required, though, as users can still use the game controller for navigating Zune services.

What is required, however, is a $14.99 Zune Pass music subscription. Music content is streaming-only (no downloads), but because song requests are on-demand, the service is still characterized under a subscription license, rather than a radio license. By contrast, the service for Xbox Live is free, but serves music randomly based around genres and similarities, and cannot stream specific song requests on-demand.

Existing Zune Pass subscribers should also note that in spite of the inability to store, download, or sync your Zune subscription music library to the Xbox, the console will still count as one of the three PC's users are allowed under the Zune Pass. If you currently stretch a single Zune Pass to cover three computers, you may need to do some uncomfortable juggling to take advantage of the new Xbox feature.

Photo of the Zune music playback screen shown on Xbox Live.
The Zune music playback screen shown on Xbox Live. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Zune users have been requesting tighter integration between the Xbox 360 and Zune hardware ever since the first Zune music player hit the streets in 2006. Microsoft added Zune Marketplace video content to the Xbox 360 in 2009, but curiously left out the music service.

It still remains to be seen how much of the Zune music experience will be available on the Xbox, which international regions will be able to take advantage of it, and whether those with Zune devices (Zune, Zune HD, Kin, Windows Phone 7) will be able to share their music preferences seamlessly across the devices, software, and Xbox 360. Features of the PC-only Zune software, such as SmartDJ playlists, artist bios, channels, picks, and Mixview, were not demonstrated during the E3 presentation.

On the flip-side, Kinect-enabled Zune music features such voice and gesture control can be found using this latest platform only. If you've always wanted an on-demand music-streaming jukebox that you can shout requests to and make skip songs with a wave of your all-powerful hand, the Zune experience of the Xbox 360 with Kinect may be your dream come true.

(Disclaimer: CNET and are both properties of CBS Interactive.)