Microsoft have confirmed that the Xbox Live network will launch this Autumn, with first consumer tests starting next week.

Communicator headset

The company are said to be spending over $2bn during the next five years, and will have special data centres for the network in America, the UK and Japan.

Pay per play rumours seem to have been squashed, but gamers will need to buy an "Xbox Live" package, which will retail at $50 (approximately 40) for an initial period, which will include 12 months access to the broadband games network - it's not known what the price may rise to after the trial, which will involve 10,000 public beta testers.

The package will come bundled with a special Communicator headset that allows voice communication, and also allows gamers to disguise their voices, hiding their real identity and age.

Online versions of Halo and Project Gotham Racing will be released, along with RalliSport Challenge, Amped, Phantasy Star Online, Midtown Madness 3, and Half Life: Counter Strike, which will all work on the Xbox Live network.

It's not known if new versions of PGR and RalliSport will have to be purchased or if a free add-on will be provided. Halo is said to be version 2 which will be called "Halo Online", and will benefit from all of the modes which were in the original, but allowing for multiplayer games via the broadband system.

John O'Rourke, marketing director of Microsoft Games, said that he expects "at least 50 Xbox Live games by the end of next year".

Further details are expected to be made clearer during E3, and as soon as we know, we'll let you know.

Related article: Xbox Live network announced