Microsoft reveals new Xbox One with live TV guide, media apps and group video Skype

Microsoft (s msft) announced its new Xbox — which will be called Xbox One — at a press event in Redmond, Wash. Tuesday, putting strong emphasis on TV and living room entertainment with a heavy focus on live TV. Don Mattrick, President of Interactive Entertainment at Microsoft, called the new device an “all in one home entertainment system.”

Microsoft said that the new device will launch “later this year,” but didn’t give a firm launch date or any information on what the Xbox One will actually cost.

The new device will offer direct access to live TV, which users can start with a simple voice command. The console can switch between games, music, live TV and apps through voice commands as well as through new, universal gestures. For example, to leave a full-screen live TV experience users grab an imaginary floating bar with both hands and then pull these hands together along the bar. It looks like the device will always be on and listening for the phrase “Xbox On” to launch into full-blown voice and gesture recognition.

There is also a so-called snap mode that will overlay an app over live TV to allow side-by-side multitasking. One of the apps taking advantage of this is Microsoft’s Skype, which will offer group video calls on the TV — something that isn’t possible with any other TV-based Skype integration, according to Yusuf Mehdi, SVP of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business. Users can watch a movie and launch a Skype call while the movie continues.

The snap mode can also be used to add contextual information to live TV, something that Microsoft will rolling out with ESPN (s dis): Viewes can add a fantasy league widget to live games.But wait, there’s more fantasy football: Microsoft is also partnering with the NFL to bring exclusive, interactive  fantasy football content to the Xbox One as games unfold.

Part of the package is also a live TV guide that is meant to replace the program guide delivered by your cable company. It integrates video-on-demand results and offers users quick access to their favorite TV shows as well as to shows currently trending on TV. The guide looks otherwise like your traditional TV guide grid, but it can be controlled by voice commands throughout.

Microsoft also announced the launch of a live action Halo TV series in cooperation with Steven Spielberg that will add interactive elements to scripted entertainment. “Xbox is about to become the next watercooler,” said Nancy Tellem, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft’s LA Studios, where the show is being produced.

Hardware-wise, the new device didn’t offer that many surprises: The Xbox One utilizes 8 GB RAM and a yet-unnamed x86 processor. It comes with a Blu-ray drive, and uses Wi-Fi Direct and USB 3 as well as a completely redesigned Kinect sensor device. That’s in line with earlier leaks, which had already pointed to the two HDMI ports, as well as Microsoft using a more PC-like architecture, with an AMD x86-processor powering the device.

Developing story, check back for updates.