Microsoft on Wednesday announced U.S. and European pricing and availability for its Xbox 360 HD-DVD player and a new video game partnership with the Academy Award-winning husband-and-wife creative team behind "The Lord of the Rings."
Microsoft said the high-definition DVD player for its new video game console will be available in mid-November in North America for $200, the United Kingdom for 130 pounds sterling, and France and Germany for 200 euros.
The software titan, which beat rivals Sony and Nintendo to market with its next-generation console, also announced a deal with Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, the director and screenwriter of "The Lord of the Rings" movies.
Microsoft said its plug-in Xbox 360 HD-DVD player would for a limited time be bundled with a copy of Jackson's film "King Kong."
Sony, whose new PlayStation 3 will hit North American shelves in November, is making a bold bet by including its Blu-ray high-definition DVD player in the game console.
Sony will sell the high-end version of the PS3 for $600 in the United States. Microsoft's comparable Xbox 360, priced at $400, does not include a high-definition DVD player.
"We're not forcing movie technology on game players but are instead letting them choose how to personalize their experiences," said Peter Moore, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business.
On the video game front, Jackson and Walsh will create two new series exclusively for the Xbox 360 and its online service Xbox Live, Shane Kim, general manager of Microsoft Game Studios, said in a telephone interview from Barcelona, where Microsoft is hosting its X06 video game show.
The duo will collaborate with Microsoft's Bungie Studios to create a new chapter for the blockbuster "Halo" series, which boosted sales of the original Xbox. The second will be an entirely new property aimed at luring new audiences to video games. Release dates are not yet available.
Kim said Microsoft is working to broaden the appeal of video games with the aim of making them as mass market as movies, music and literature.
"Hopefully, we'll come up with the secret code to unlock all that potential," Kim said of the company's work with Jackson and Walsh, who had already been tapped to run the production of an upcoming Hollywood film based on "Halo."
Microsoft's Ensemble Studios, creators of the "Age of Empires" game franchise, will deliver a new real-time strategy game called "Halo Wars" on a date to be announced, Kim said.
The company also said Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.'s Rockstar studio will deliver two downloadable episodes of "Grand Theft Auto IV" exclusively to Xbox Live players in the months following the release of the game.
"Grand Theft Auto III," released in 2001 and temporarily exclusive to the PlayStation 2, is credited with helping to drive sales of Sony's market-leading console as Microsoft was getting off the ground with its first Xbox.
Other Xbox 360 exclusives include a new installment of "Splinter Cell" from Ubisoft , "Project Gotham Racing 4" from developer Bizarre Creations, and the return of "Banjo-Kazooie" -- a wildly popular all-ages game on the Nintendo 64 console -- with a new game from developer Rare Ltd.