By Liana B. Baker
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp is looking to put its popular Kinect motion-sensing device at the heart of its Xbox game console, unveiling plans on Monday to allow users to control live television feeds, search YouTube and play action games with voice commands.
The moves, announced at the annual E3 video game show in Los Angeles, should help the software giant further its ambitions to make its gaming device an essential media hub in the living room.
Microsoft said it will give users access to live television programing through the Xbox in the United States sometime next year, following live TV services it already offers in Britain, France and Australia.
Xbox users will also be able to access Hulu Plus, Netflix, search the Internet and watch YouTube videos on the system, all controllable through the Kinect, Microsoft said, presenting a challenge to cable TV's dominance.
In addition, Microsoft thrilled hardcore gamers at a pre-show event by showing off upcoming versions of action games with new Kinect-enabled features, such as assembling guns and weapons in Ubisoft's "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Future Soldier", or using voice controls for the upcoming shooter game "Mass Effect 3" next year.
Analysts were initially skeptical that core gamers would migrate to the Kinect, which has attracted mostly newcomers with its simple dancing, animal and sports-themed games.
"The concept of playing a core game without a controller is difficult," said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. "A controller makes sense for most actions. It's awkward when you combine Kinect and a controller. But it's a start for Microsoft."
In addition, the company announced some new games for Kinect including a Star Wars-themed title and "Disneyland Adventure", a partnership with Walt Disney Co. It also said "Halo 4", the latest version of its blockbuster combat game will be released next year.
The Kinect has sold 10 million units since it launched last fall and become one of the software giant's fastest selling consumer products ever.
The device, which hooks up to the company's Xbox console, lets gamers control movements on-screen with gestures and voice commands. It competes with the latest version of Nintendo Wii system and Sony Corp's PlayStation Move device.
Microsoft announced the news ahead of this week's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) convention, the videogame business' marquee event that draws more than 45,000 industry types, reporters and analysts.
This year's conference, running June 7-9, comes as the industry tries to cope with the rapid growth of online and mobile gaming. It is also expected to feature comeback attempts from two Japan-based videogame heavyweights, Sony and Nintendo.
Later on Monday, Sony is expected to reveal more details about its new handheld games device, while Nintendo will be launching the first new video game home console on Tuesday.
Microsoft shares rose 0.4 percent to $24.01 on the Nasdaq.