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Xbox Lights Up Epix, YouTube In Guide Overhaul

Not all of Microsoft's 40-plus content partners for the Xbox 360 will be ready to play by the holidays, with Epix and YouTube among the handful of those in the U.S. set to go live when the software company releases its redesigned, voice- and motion-activated user interface for the console Dec. 6.

Verizon's 26-channel FiOS TV lineup is scheduled to hit the Xbox later in December, along with content from NBCUniversal's Syfy, Wal-Mart's Vudu movie service, Crackle and Vevo.

Early 2012 launches slated for the console include Comcast's Xfinity video-on-demand service, HBO Go and MLB.TV.

The move to make Xbox a center for accessing a wealth of TV, movies and other video marks Microsoft's boldest attempt yet in its years-long goal of becoming the go-to device for home entertainment.

With the Dec. 6 upgrade, which Microsoft describes as the biggest change to the user interface since the Xbox 360 was introduced in late 2005, the console will provide an integrated top-level search via the Bing search engine. The new UI also supports the Xbox's Kinect attachment -- letting users find games, movies, TV shows and music on the Xbox Live service by saying what they're searching for.

Initially, on-demand content will be searchable via Bing and Kinect. Eventually, Xbox users will also be able to search live TV listings, to find programming available through FiOS TV and AT&T's U-verse TV.

Epix, YouTube and NBC's Today are scheduled to be available on Xbox this week. They will join services already available on Xbox, including ESPN3 live sports programming, Hulu Plus and Netflix.

Through the Xbox, Epix subscribers will be able to select from among 3,000 movies. The premium movie service, owned by Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and Lionsgate, is available to more than 30 million homes nationwide through Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Dish Network, Mediacom Communications, NCTC, Suddenlink Communications and Verizon FiOS.

"It's not just a game device -- it's another set-top box in the home," Epix president CEO Mark Greenberg said. "It's a great way for the MSOs to authenticate... The alternative is, you turn your back on that, and somebody else becomes that provider."

Later in December, U.S. Xbox users are set to get Sony Pictures' Crackle, Dailymotion, Clear Channel's iHeartRadio,, Syfy, Warner Bros.'s TMZ, UFC, Verizon FiOS TV, Vevo and Vudu.

On tap for early 2012 are Best Buy's CinemaNow, HBO Go, MLB.TV and Comcast Xfinity on Demand.

Microsoft previously had listed Fox Broadcasting as coming to the Xbox next year, but Fox was removed from the final list of partners being announced Monday.

Verizon, for its part, has designed a promotional FiOS bundle around Xbox. It is offering new customers who sign up online for FiOS TV service through Jan. 21, 2012, a triple play starting at $89.99 per month that includes 35/35 Mbps Internet service -- and the telco will throw in a 12-month Xbox Live Gold membership and the "Xbox Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary" game.

To access the expanded array of TV options, Xbox 360 users must subscribe to Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold service, which costs $60 per year, and hook up the game console to a broadband connection.

Microsoft has other content partners outside the U.S., including the BBC in the U.K. and Rogers in Canada, which were among the slew of media providers announced in October. 

With MLB Advanced Media's, a newly announced partner, subscribers will be able to access every regular season game from the 2012 season, both live and on-demand, with an array of interactive features.

Also Dec. 6, Microsoft is releasing a free Xbox Companion app for Windows Phone, which will let users find and control content from the entertainment services on Xbox Live. Windows Phone's market share is miniscule, accounting for 1.5% of worldwide smartphone sales in the third quarter of 2011, compared with 52.5% for Google's Android and 15% for Apple's iOS, according to research firm Gartner.

Microsoft had sold 57.6 million Xbox 360 consoles worldwide as of the end of September 2011, and moved 960,000 units during the week of this past Black Friday. The company has about 35 million Xbox Live members.

Sony Computer Entertainment has sold 56 million PlayStation 3s to date, while Nintendo has shipped 89.4 million Wii consoles worldwide since 2006.