Microsoft is taking the wraps off its next-generation Xbox console on cable television tonight, giving the world an early look at a system...

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Microsoft is taking the wraps off its next-generation Xbox console on cable television tonight, giving the world an early look at a system it hopes will define and dominate the future of video gaming.

To meet that tall order, in November the company’s Xbox team is rolling out what likely will be the most sophisticated game console ever, one equipped for high-definition graphics and that has much more speed and power than its console that debuted in 2001.

And even as Microsoft has pushed the technological limits of the machine it is calling the Xbox 360, it has softened the console’s appearance to give it a broader appeal, judging by photographs that have leaked out online. Those photos show the Xbox 360, as it is being called, is white and able to stand vertically on one end — quite a difference from its boxy, black predecessor.

Although Microsoft has tried to keep a lid on the Xbox 360 until tonight’s official unveiling, leaks about the console’s power, speed and accessories have surfaced on avid gamer sites and online forums. Much of the leaking was spurred by a posting on the Engadget site, which showed a picture of the console taken at a pre-launch party last week.

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Microsoft has not publicly confirmed or denied those details, instead referring to them as “buzz and speculation.”

The official disclosure will come when the company unveils the console tonight on cable-music channel MTV on the East Coast at 6:30 p.m. Pacific time (the program runs on the West Coast at 9:30 p.m.).

According to numerous sites that focus on video gaming, the Xbox 360 will have wireless controllers and a remote control — features that could help the console land a coveted spot in living-room entertainment centers.

The technical elements of the console, if true, would make it about as powerful as many of the personal computers now in stores. According to such Web sites as Gaming Horizon, the Xbox 360 will have 512 megabytes of memory — eight times that of the original console — and three 3.2 gigahertz processors. The original Xbox had a 733- megahertz processor.

The new console, according to these sites, will have a 20-gigabyte detachable hard drive, compared with an 8-gigabyte hard drive for its predecessor.

As planned, Microsoft will beat its rivals to market this year with a next-generation console, and is making the most of its time in the spotlight. Its MTV program will have numerous musical performances and celebrity appearances. Monday night, it will give more concrete details about its business at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.

The MTV program is intended to insert the Xbox 360 directly into the cultural zeitgeist and squarely in view of a core group of video-game players. The Los Angeles event will give the industry a look under the console’s hood and detail the plans Microsoft has for the machine.

Such an advanced system is certainly going to cost Microsoft in the short run. It is expensive to produce and likely has a small profit margin, and its retail price — which has not been disclosed — may be so high that it deters potential buyers. But component prices will undoubtedly fall, and years from now the console could still hold its own technology-wise.

The setup also allows Microsoft to set the stage for the Xbox 360 to handle major upgrades in the future. A detachable hard drive, for example, could give Microsoft room in the future to upgrade to new hard drives that can also play music through a set of headphones or house a small screen for playing videos.

For now, the company appears to be solely emphasizing the gaming and online capabilities of the Xbox 360. Microsoft has been charging users a $50 annual subscription fee to access Xbox Live, its service that adds online gameplay to many of its titles.

Numerous sites speculate the Xbox 360 will give all users free access to basic features of Xbox Live, including the ability to talk to other players through voice or text messaging — which Xbox Live now offers paying subscribers — and through videoconferencing.

Users would also be able to play music from portable devices and show photos from digital cameras.

Xbox Live would charge a subscription, according to the sites, for playing games against others online.

The online leaks have allowed Microsoft to dominate the news cycle this week before the start of E3 while its rivals, Sony and Nintendo, have been mostly silent before their media briefings next week. Xbox is riding a public-relations wave, but every leak takes away a little of the oomph from its official console unveiling. Even then, Microsoft plans to withhold some details until Monday night.

“That’s not going to help Microsoft a whole lot, because what they want to do is when they reveal it on MTV or to the industry, they want to make a really big splash,” said Dan “Shoe” Hsu, editor in chief of Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine. “Now when people see it, what’s going to be running through everyone’s mind is, ‘I’ve seen it already.’ ”

If it is the first next-generation console to launch, the Xbox 360 will beat the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo’s Revolution by several months, perhaps even a year. Because of the timing, Microsoft will have the most to say about its console at E3, said Peer Schneider, senior publisher for IGN Entertainment.

But expect Sony to have plenty to say as well, Schneider said.

“They’ll have to say something,” he said. “Sony has to defend itself and it has to tell the gaming industry why it should care about the PlayStation 3.”

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or kpeterson@seattletimes.com