Even though Microsoft held an event last night just to announce the Kinect, the company took to the stage today for its full press event at E3, and the company still had a few surprises up its sleeve.

While we got demos for lots of games we already knew about (Call of Duty: Black Ops, Fable 3, Gears of War 3 amongst others), there were still some tidbits in there.  Microsoft has signed a deal with Activision that Xbox 360 will receive exclusive first rights to all Call of Duty map packs through 2012.  We've already seen this with the Stimulus Pack and Resurgence Pack for Modern Warfare 2, so at least two more years of this … sorry Playstation 3 owners!

xbox 360 ver 2While all of the game play we were shown for the traditional games was impressive, it was clear that Microsoft is all about the Kinect this year.  The lion's share of the conference was taken up with showing demos of the new gaming peripheral, and …  having seen it in action, I may have to eat my words.  The responsiveness was spectacular, but the true test will be to see it used in a real world setting.  How much clearance do you need for it?  The Ubisoft exercise game, Fitness Evolved,  scanned the woman's full body, so what will be the proper height for the Kinect to sit at?  How much open space do you need of obstructions and so on?

Overall the Kinect was impressive, and, yes, even Kinectimals.  How could you not go "aww" as a little girl hid from her pet tiger cub and he looked for her?  And the responsiveness of the cub to her "scratching" its neck was something else.

The thing that gets me about the Kinect is that it will work with every Xbox 360 sold thus far.  Something this new working with a gaming console that has been on the market for five years says a lot to the power of the Xbox 360.   Also the fact that this new device will interact with the Dashboard, allowing you to control movies and videos is great.  The controller worked, but it was never perfect, now saying "Xbox … Pause" to halt a video playing is a definite step forward.

Sports fans with Xbox Live Gold accounts also got a huge bonus today as sports network ESPN has teamed up with Microsoft to bring you 3500 hours of sports programming for free this year.  This is a multi-year deal, and the number of hours should be the same each year.  This will include live sporting events as well as on-demand selections.

The big surprise at the end was the unveiling of the redesigned Xbox 360 console itself.  Smaller, sleeker, with a built-in 250 GB hard drive and 802.11N Wi-Fi, this new model is shipping today and will be on sale this week.  It will retail for $299, the same price as the current system, and is also physically smaller as well as reportedly "whisper quiet".

This is a big year for the Xbox 360, and also lends credence to what Microsoft saying they planned in a ten year life span for this console.  This is only year five, folks, and Microsoft doesn't seem to be stopping the love for this console any time soon.