Is Microsoft stepping up its interest in using the Xbox, smartphones or other devices to control home systems? That question is being asked following a new report that the technology giant is buying id8 Group R2 Studios, which offers a product to control home systems remotely from an Android device.

The terms of the sale, first reported in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, were not disclosed. Neither Microsoft nor R2 have yet confirmed the deal. Both Apple and Google had reportedly also been talking with R2 about a buyout.

Slingbox Founder

R2 Studios was founded by Blake Krikorian, who also started Sling Media, maker of the mobile TV controller Slingbox.

R2 offers an app in the Google Play marketplace called R2 Control for Crestron, which, according to the description, “enables residential and commercial customers to control AV, lighting, thermostats, security systems and thousands of other products via their Android device from anywhere in the world.”

The app sells for US$ 99, and is designed to provide control over systems that have been integrated into a Crestron control panel. Crestron is a provider of control and automation systems for homes, offices, schools, hospitals and other environments.

The Journal’s report, which cited unnamed people familiar with the acquisition, indicated that the purchase is intended to strengthen Microsoft’s Xbox division. Like Sony and Nintendo, Microsoft has been trying to turn its Xbox video game console into a home entertainment center -- and now, possibly, a home systems control center.

Home OS

In addition to games, the Xbox Live service and Xbox 360 offer streaming movies and TV shows, chatting, IM and Web searches, among other functions. R2’s technology could, of course, also be adapted for Windows-based smartphones, computers or tablets.

Microsoft has been working for years on HomeOS, a home automation system project that was started in the company’s research division. Several months ago, the company published a white paper on its site, entitled "An Operating System for the Home", outlining an environment where virtually all electronic devices in the home appear to a PC as peripherals. A trial version has been tested in a dozen homes for much of last year.

The Journal story included a mention that R2 has also been developing technology for displaying digital media on TVs, although no other details were given.