It appears that an upgrade to the Xbox Live broadband gaming network might be one of the announcements which Microsoft make during their pre-E3 press conference on May 12th.

Several business news websites are reporting that Microsoft plan to make an announcement about the upgrade during the annual E3 expo in Los Angeles, and that the upgrade will feature improved voice chat communication functions allowing Xbox Live users to speak to other people on their friends list without even having a game playing on the console.

Currently the only way to chat with other Xbox Live gamers is to have a game running and speak either in the pre-game lobby or during the playing of a game. However the expected upgrade would mean the Xbox worked similar to an internet based phone system, allowing you to simply speak with friends anywhere in the world via your broadband connection.

Further improvements to the Xbox dashboard are thought to include a function to install digital music such as MP3 or WMA files on to the Xbox's hard drive, and listen to them during games which support personalised sound tracks - much as some existing games do with tracks ripped from CD's.

So far there's no idea if the upgrade will be free of charge to Xbox Live users, or if you'll have to pay to gain the extra features either via new Xbox Live starter kits, or offered as downloadable content. As soon as Microsoft make their announcements at E3 next week, we'll let you know.

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