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Future Unclear for Microsoft's Xbox TV Set-Top Box

Rumors of a second new Xbox device isn't anything new, but it's been a while since we've heard anything about it. That may be due to Microsoft's uncertainty on whether to launch this "Lite" version along with the Xbox Infinity, or just release the latter full-blown console by itself.

Let's back up a moment. For a long time the plan, it seemed, was to launch a new Kinect 2.0-based Xbox Infinity gaming console with app support and set-top box functionality, and a second lighter Kinect-enabled set-top version with just support for apps and streaming TV. Naturally, this model would compete with the likes of Roku, Apple TV and other set-top boxes. Gamers wanting to play premium Xbox Infinity games would need to buy the console.

But now sources claim that it's unclear if Microsoft intends to introduce the set-top box version at all. The product design has reportedly gone through several iterations, including models with Kinect that would allow the user to navigate through content using voice commands and gestures. That said, it's possible that pricing could be a big factor in Microsoft's uncertainty, especially if Kinect technology is involved. Can the company sell a Kinect-enabled set-top box that's priced competitively with Apple TV and Roku hardware?

The news stems from the Wall Street Journal, which also quotes several insiders who said Microsoft is telling teams to write software using coding standards that Microsoft recently developed. This is nothing new as well: the company is pushing Windows 8-based apps that can work across a wide field of devices including the Windows 8-based Xbox Infinity, the "Xbox TV" set-top box, Windows Phone 8, Windows 8-based tablets and Windows 8 desktops and notebooks.

Both the Xbox Infinity and the Xbox TV set-top box will reportedly use tech stemming from Microsoft's acquisition of VideoSurf for $70 million back in November 2011. This company created technology that catalogs and tags videos by scanning audio and visual content of videos. The company's mobile app was like Shazam, only for video; point the device's camera at a television and pull up information.

After the acquisition, Microsoft established a Video Cognition team that would use the tech to "radically change the way we watch TV," and to leverage advances in gestures and voice control to "streamline the way viewers search, consume, and share content, minimizing the time spent searching for programs, while maximizing the viewing and sharing capacities."

Adding TV capabilities is the logical next step in the Xbox console's evolution. Microsoft set out to create a central entertainment system in the living room with the original Xbox back in 2001. The company didn’t really achieve that until the successor arrived in 2005, but there's still a disconnection between the device and the customer's cable or satellite TV service. Microsoft likely plans to eliminate that final gap with the next Xbox.