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The Xbox 360 event at E3. Credit: Microsoft.

The Xbox 360 is a gaming console, right? Increasingly less so. We’ve seen how the Xbox (and the PlayStation 3) have become more and more like all-purpose home entertainment systems—the new digital hearth. On Monday, Microsoft upped the ante, announcing that live TV would be coming to Xbox in the fall. The announcement came at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.

Details about the live TV service, sadly, were scarce. Microsoft didn’t name its partners in the venture. Dennis Durkin, Microsoft’s chief operating and financial officer for interactive entertainment, said that more details would come between now and the product launch date, reports CNN. One thing’s clear, however; this is a major gambit to hook users on Xbox Live, the service first launched in 2002 which is said to earn Microsoft over $1 billion per year. “We want you to have a reason to turn on the Xbox every day,” he said.

While we didn’t learn just which networks might partner with Microsoft, we did learn a bit about how the user might navigate Xbox Live’s TV service: by voice, and via Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. The demonstration showed how Bing could power searches across multiple video sources: the Web, YouTube, and the forthcoming “Live TV” service. Since voice control lets you speak your command, “You no longer have to navigate through the menus to find content,” Xbox Live’s Mark Whitten said, according to CNET.

Microsoft wants to partner with cable companies, not supplant them. Durkin told Bloomberg that the best example of what Microsoft has in mind is the partnership they’ve already piloted in the U.K. through the British Sky Broadcasting Group. That service also offers a glimpse of unique features Xbox might be able to leverage as both a TV provider and gaming network–simultaneous viewing with friends, and potentially a chat feature for the long awaited “social TV” experience. The U.K. service was first presented back in 2009, which makes it somewhat surprising it has taken this long to launch an equivalent in the U.S.

With Microsoft’s announcement, did it leave competitors Nintendo and PlayStation in the lurch? Not exactly: Microsoft was the only of the “big three” to not be announcing new hardware at E3, meaning it would take a big announcement like this to get anyone to pay attention as Nintendo and PlayStation revealed their own offerings.

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