Is it mere coincidence that Microsoft's Xbox 360 division, Nintendo and Logitech/Google all launched major product updates this week?
This conspiracy theorist thinks "not."
With gift buyers on the prowl, gizmo makers are doing their best to draw attention to their particular goodies and underline that the items are "future proof." (Well, at least, for a while).
Bing Me In: Microsoft earned the most buzz with interactive entertainment updates for the Xbox 360, integrating the Bing search engine and a bunch of new streaming video channels.
Now you can just wave your hands and bark voice commands at an Xbox 360 (equipped with the Kinect peripheral) to have the system find and tune video and music related to the specific performer or director or show title you've announced.
Kinda lost in the shuffle - but probably the upgrade that users will enjoy most - is all the enhanced Netflix functionality now on Xbox. The streaming service has come up with a more refined, efficient way of sending high definition (720p) material to the Xbox 360 and is introducing Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound selectively. Also, when searching the Netflix site, up to three times as many titles as before will now be showcased on the screen. Then when a movie or TV show is over, Netflix will automatically show links to related titles - like the next episodes in a series - which you'd logically want to watch.
3DS Updates: Out of the box, the Nintendo 3DS portable game system offered the ability to shoot and view 3D still images, with playback on the device's glasses free 3D screen.
Now with its new system update installed, users can also record up to 10 minutes of 3D video in continuous or stop-motion style, with storage on an installed SD card.
But wait, there's more. 3DS owners can now transfer games (including saved data), photos and audio recordings from one 3DS to another, up to five times.
There are also new features to be found in the Nintendo eShop and StreetPass Mii Plaza and with enhanced online gaming.
Plus, more than 2,900 new free-use Nintendo 3DS Hotspot locations have been added in the U.S. and Canada, including 42 airports that offer Boingo service. The total number of free 3DS Hotspots is now more than 29,000, including 1,000 Best Buy stores, 200 Simon Malls (like our King of Prussia Mall) and 25,000 AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots.
Google TV Gets Better: While the update hasn't hit my Logitech Revue box as yet, Logitech this week began the Android 3.1 OS upgrade of this Google TV set-top box. And if you go buy a new one - spotted at Best Buy at the drastically reduced price of $99 (or $129 with the large, but highly useful keyboard remote) - the update starts automatically upon activation.
The enhancments include a TV and Movies app which allows users to search, watch and rate 80,000 movies and TV shows from cable, Netflix, Amazon and YouTube. That's just one of 50 apps customized for large-screen TV viewing now available from the just added Android Marketplace - with more apps to come.
Also, the built-in Google Chrome browser has been enhanced with support for Adobe Flash 10.2. And personal media stored on a home networked PC, Mac or media server is now searchable on Google TV.
While Logitech is essentially flushing its inventory of Revues at a bargain price (the product started out at $299), Google executive Eric Schmidt this week predicted a bright future for the technology. He told a conference that "by the summer of 2012, half the new TVs sold" would have Google TV functionality built-in. Currently, only Sony has Google TV models, but market leader Samsung is reportedly readying models for introduction at next month's International CES electronics show. LG is likely to have 'em, too.