Microsoft's E3 Press Conference - does it matter to us?

As a gamer as well as a home cinema and hi-fi fan, it didn't take much persuading for me to stay at the office a bit late last night to watch the live feed of Microsoft's press conference at E3.

Microsoft's policy tends to be to concentrate on games that will be released before the end of the year, so we didn't see many titles that were entirely new to us, but new footage of games like Fable 2, Gears of War 2 and Resident Evil 5 was impressive none-the-less. The Final Fantasy XIII announcement (that it would launch simultaneously on the Xbox 360 and PS3) is obviously a massive coup for Microsoft, too.

The more important long-term announcement for users was the all-new "Xbox Experience": the dashboard blades are being replaced by a cleaner and more minimalist design - it looks good.

And then there are the Avatars - the characters that you can create to represent you in the Xbox Live community. Are they a rip-off of the Wii's Miis? Yes, of course they are, but they seem to take it further, with more detail, customisation and integration into games.

However, the feature I'm most excited about wasn't actually announced during the press conference, but by Marc Whitten, Xbox Live General Manager, in a letter to the Xbox community's inside man, Major Nelson. The letter can be read in its entirety here, but the key thing for me is that you will soon be able to copy your disc-based games to your 360's hard disk. Doing this will bring loading times down, and crucially, because most of the 360's not-inconsiderable operating volume comes from the optical drive, noise will be significantly reduced. I'll raise my glass to that!

We're quite surprised that Microsoft didn't make a big announcement regarding the launch of the 60gb Xbox 360 and price-cut on the 20gb model. As it stands, the news has been confirmed for the States, but not for any other territories yet.

Any hopes that the company is planning a Blu-ray model were also given a knock. Not only does such a device remain unconfirmed, but Microsoft's bullish claims over its digital downloads would suggest the company has no intention of pursuing the idea. I could bang on forever about how disappointing HD downloads are on the 360, but according to Don Matrick, Microsoft's Senior Vice President of Interactive Entertainment Business, "it's the experience consumers want".

So, should we care about what Microsoft's up to? Well, if you're a gamer like me, yes, you should. And if you're not into games? It might be hard to get excited about a new version of Galaga, but there might be significance in some aspects of the presentation. For one, the giant corporation's dedication to online delivery of HD content suggests it's confident that the downloading process will become quicker and smoother, making it a genuine alternative to buying Blu-ray discs. With BT's announcement today that it's investing £1.5bn on rolling-out super-fast optical fibres to 10 million homes across the UK, perhaps Microsoft is on to something...