The Critical 'I'

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Saturday, September 27, 2003

X-KARAOKE
load up achey breaky heart
If Halo's not your bag, then Microsoft is hoping the ability to turn the Xbox into a karaoke machine and digital file player will entice the consumer market beyond gamers to buy the console.

This strategy is aimed at making gaming console boxes more like digital media entertainment units, able to do more than just games and to appeal more to the entire family. It's not an entirely new idea--Sony's PlayStation One played music CDs, and the PS2 expanded that playback capability to handle DVDs as well. The Xbox also has this feature, and in fact a major reason why I bought myself an Xbox was to use it as a DVD player. There are also extensive hardware hack clubs that have come up with many ways to turn both consoles, especially the Xbox, into full-fledged digital media players, with even DVR capabilities.

Whether or not people will really go for a box that does a hundred different things is debatable. I've said before that next-generation consoles like the PlayStation X are nice to have, but probably won't fulfill the wild expectations of a completely wired household. I think a few add-ons, like karaoke playback, will accomplish their purpose: To expand the market in modest steps. There's a small tipping point, though, as to how many things you can jam into a box like this before most consumers get turned off. Keeping it simple is the better long-term strategy.