Xbox 360 and your iPod

Coming to a big screen near you. The Xbox 360, when it debuts, will have the ability to stream music files from just about any MP3 player, including, gasp, Apple’s iPod. And during the preview of the Xbox 350 in San Francisco last month, Microsoft execs were really excited to be able to play music from the apple iPod, and talked up the functionality quite a bit.

“When you plug your iPod in,” Xbox digital-entertainment executive producer Jeff Henshaw told CNET News.com, “the Xbox 360 automatically detects that it’s there. You can browse by artist or album or genre or by custom playlist.”

And, although it can stream the music from your iPod into games like Project Gotham Racing 3, replacing the game sound track with your own tunes, this was done without Apple’s support.

“We do not have an official relationship with Apple for the iPod connectivity,” said Scott Henson, product unit manager in Microsoft’s advanced technology group. He maintains that “Xbox 360 leverages standard protocols such as USB mass storage to enable iPod support.”

Henshaw said Microsoft tried to “engage” Apple in a partnership that would have officially made the iPod interoperable with Xbox, but Apple rejected the overture.

“So we went in and built all of the support we could,” Henshaw said. Microsoft plans to release the new Xbox in North America on Nov. 22.

Henshaw said the Xbox 360 would be able to stream any standard MP3 file or AAC file from an iPod, but not protected songs purchased through the iTunes Music Store. Those songs, he said, will appear grayed out in menus on the Xbox.

Microsoft would not comment as to wether they had to reverse engineer anything, but industry folks assume they did, since the iPod actually scatters the songs accross directories and renames them, which makes them really hard to find.

iPods have a database that cross-references the location of music files and their names so users can select them through the device’s menu. Microsoft would have had to include simple software in order to engage that database, he said.

“They have to read that database to get a list of songs on the iPod and present that to the user,” Benson said. “Once a user has selected what song to play, then you use the database to find the song and play it.”

So, it sounds like they would have to figure out how to find them first by talking to their database. I would say Apple isn’t going to like this very much, and will probably be ready to counter the ability with an iTunes update of some kind, like they did when RealNetwork’s made it possible to copy songs from their online offerings with the iPod.

“It would be unfortunate if that happened, because people are enjoying the flexibility,” said Henshaw. “It would be unfortunate to see Apple inhibit people’s ability to enjoy their own music.”

Hehe. That’s their line and they are sticking to it. This article quoted the News.com article, and they said Apple did not have a comment at this time. I’m sure there will be one when the system ships near the end of the month.

Here’s a post on Microsoft blog on SeattlePI.com, where a journalist actually got to try it out with an iPod Nano and his own iPod, and he said it worked just fine, even has a pic with it connected.

Bink.nu has an article about it posted here, and it has some quotes from J Allard and he says,

“I’m pro consumer on this one to the end. Anybody in my company who thought this was a bad idea to plug in Sony or Apple devices into this thing, I ended that conversation pretty quickly. This is the right thing to do for consumers. Once they invest $500 in their digital media library, you can’t ask them to go buy a 360 music player and a 360 digital camera, and a 360… NO! They got their stuff. They’re going to want to plug it in. We’re going to be open here, guys. And if anything, I wish we could be more cooperative with the other companies that are doing those things. And if Sony or Apple were to call me up and say, “hey, we want to [do] some special things with the 360,” i’m on it. I think it would not be in anybody’s interest to say, we’re not going to work with 360. It’s good for them, it’s good for us, and it’s good for consumers.”

Sounds good to me. ;)