Xbox One: The Xbox that Doesn’t Do Media Center

Sep 4, 2013 by

So as to not bury the lede, the unsurprising truth is, in fact, true: The Xbox One will not be a “native Media Center Extender.”   In an interview with IGN, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Marc Whitten said “Xbox One isn’t a native Media Center Extender. We’ll continue to work to enable more ways for everyone to get the television they want over the life of the program.”

We can quibble over his choice of the term “native” in his answer (if for nothing else to give optimists like myself a thread of hope that is about the width of a strand of DNA), but the fact of the matter is that Microsoft has for quite some time made it abundantly clear — through its disbanding the Media Center team, the lack of any new ecosystem development, the lack of support for legacy extenders in Windows 8, and now the lack of support in Xbox One — that Windows Media Center is the old Family Room OS, and that Xbox is the new Family Room OS.

And why should Microsoft continue to keep Media Center on anything more than life support?  This is the whole-home media OS that they invented a decade ago that is still slicker than anything Apple has every come up with for the home, and actually works really well with existing technology (i.e., Cable TV).   For most companies, the axiom is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  In Microsoft management circles, this axiom seems to have been distorted into “if it ain’t broke, wait until we take a crack at it.”

It’s all quite depressing for we, the Windows Media Center owners and advocates.  We, the tiny speck of an 8 million user base for Microsoft, are only advocates because the darned thing works and works well — and works better than any alternative on the planet.  We can only collectively imagine how useful it would be if Microsoft had continued to invest in it by creating a real ecosystem, app store, and revenue model to support its growth.  We dream of an alternate reality where Windows Media Center is the iPhone of the Home — where everything is effortless, connected, and automated so that anyone in the family can interact with their media anyway they like and virtually anywhere they like.  With the myriad of hacks and special plug-ins I’ve invested in over the years, my current Media Center setup is still highly capable, highly useful and would be downright depressing to give up.  Nothing else on the market even comes close.

Every day, I use my Media Center system to do everything I need my whole-home media management system to do for me.  And I smile just a little bit each time I use it because it makes almost every interaction so darned lovely and enjoyable.  But recently, I’ve also been feeling a bit of dread every time I smile, because I know deep down that the sand in the hourglass will eventually complete its journey to the bottom bulb, leaving us with an empty space that must be filled in with an alternative.  And, quite unfortunately, because the Xbox One does not support DVR or traditional live TV services (though, to be fair, it will support some live content from specific cable providers, but I’d argue that’s already too complex a story for a mass-consumer set-top device), Microsoft has left a gap about the size of the Cable TV industry in its product portfolio, leaving us nowhere to go.

Microsoft has developed quite a talent of late in squashing useful innovations that solve real problems real well, yet needed an extra push in setup/installation ease  (Media Center, Home Server), and doubling-down on offerings that either copy Apple’s over-simplified model unsuccessfully (Zune, Surface RT) or over-innovate and offer us things that may very well define the future (Windows Metro, Windows Phone, Kinect, Xbox One), but they don’t do such a great job providing real competitive value right now.

While pinning the future of the digital family room on Xbox makes a lot of business and practical sense, the lack of DVR and simple, uncompromising live TV support renders the Xbox One as a gaming machine and a device designed to enable the future of streaming TV. And while the future of TV content will surely be cloud-based streaming, the current reality and short to mid-term future will still be a world of DVRs and traditional cable TV program guides.

Microsoft has become a company that is addicted to over-thinking, over-future-proofing, and over-designing solutions in a bid to try to be relevant and exciting again in consumer technology.  It’s hard to watch.  Microsoft has so much talent in their ranks, but with such an inferiority complex at the management level, they are hindered in their ability to actually achieve what they desire — market success and consumer respect.

The Xbox One is a triumphant technology achievement, but I fear it’s too clever by half, and by short-circuiting any ability for Media Center compatibility or at least offering feature parity demonstrates that Microsoft is lacking a cohesive product road map for their own customers.  Perhaps the next generation of leadership for Microsoft will be able to step back, survey the landscape, and begin sorting all of this out in a way that suggests that the customer experience is actually more important that the ten-year technology strategy.

 

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  • TeaRunner

    Preorder canceled. My cable company can go themselves and MS with them before I go back to renting cable boxes.

  • jpollarddmz

    So you weren’t planning to use it for gaming much, or the other audio/video apps?

  • John Tejada

    See I dreamed with the possibility that Microsoft will foresee the vast potential that keeping the WMC platform alive will allow. And I don’t even think we were even hoping for a new UI or anything (the abandonment is pretty evident at this point). But, was it really difficult to realize that, if the intention of the “ONE” is to have a single box in the living room as a hub that connects everything under the TV, the most natural thing would be provide the option of just skipping a few of those boxes under the TV!
    Ohh I just dreamed with the idea of having my Xbox One connect to my HomerunHD PRIME tuner and magically stream the TV channel I want to watch, and scroll a natively supported guide. I really dont see why I need a freaking cable box using more space and energy!!

    Totally agree with article and, for all practical purposes… not even slightly thinking on buying it. (I was about to use the word “upgrading” but didn’t find it appropriate)..

    Obviously, I’m not a gamer.

  • jpollarddmz

    John, I wouldn’t count out the ability to use the Xbox One directly with an HDHomerun Prime just yet. There’s nothing to say that SiliconDust couldn’t make an app for the Xbox One that would do just what you’re looking for.

  • http://jondeutsch.com Jon Deutsch

    If one or more of Xbox One’s three operating systems :) can facilitate a NextGen Media Center experience via independent apps and hardware support, I will not miss Media Center. Unfortunately, based on what I’ve seen so far, I do not see a viable path to this scenario. Please educate me as to what I’m missing!

  • bloo0153

    I don’t see why you’re upset. If anything, the Xbox 360 will get cheaper which works great as a WMC extender.

  • bloo0153

    I assume no one is surprised by this. My concern now is the media center guide data being turned off.

  • http://jondeutsch.com Jon Deutsch

    It’s not about Xbox 360 (which I recognize will continue to be sold along side Xbox One) as much as it is a symbolic closing of the book of Microsoft’s love/hate relationship with Media Center. The lack of support in Xbox One, to me, tells me that the end is neigh. There will be a point in time in the next 2-5 years where MSFT shuts down the guide service, turning off the lights on WMC.

    If they end up (via first or third parties) turning Xbox One into a WMC replacement, then I don’t care if WMC goes dark. But as it stands now, there’s a huge gap in the set-top-box capabilities offerings at MSFT.

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  • comments1980

    I see this is a widely read article (haha)…. But I have to put my 2 cents in. I now have no reason to consider the XBOX one. I use Media Center extensively in my home. I’m not renting a cable box. I’ll go back to OTA before I do. My guess is, that the Cable companies that are allowing Microsoft do host their TV apps, and stream their stuff are doing so with the condition the Microsoft get people like you and I to stop using CableCARDs. The fact of the matter is, content is just getting to expensive. Something is going to have to give. I’ll use my 360s as long as I can. Or until someone comes up with a better CABLECARD Solution. (Which I don’t believe will happen due to the politics.)

  • comments1980

    Gaming is secondary on my Xbox systems. I do use the streaming apps though.

  • DBLTFanClubPrez

    I’m so freaking pissed at them. No Windows Media Center, but Xbox One will be able to read my facial expression and tell when I’m mad. Little does it know that I’m mad because it has no Windows Media Center extender support. UGH!!

    Microsoft how many times can you shoot yourself in the foot before you run out of toes?!!!

  • ansgar odinson

    Love my media center. I have spent countless dollars on third party addons, cracks and apps customizing a truly awesome program. I cant believe that Microsoft dropped it they way they have. I cant believe that it hasn’t become the way pretty much everybody watches tv and navigates their digital library in their homes.

  • Jim Chambers

    So what happens in five years when my 360 inevitably dies and I can’t find a replacement? Then there is no alternative.

    That aside, my console does double duty as a game machine and media center in the living room. It’s nice to not have to switch between systems to watch recorded OTA programming and then jump into a game. Throw in the 2 kinects vying for a spot on top of my TV, and you’re just inviting disaster.

  • Samale Matina

    a real shame this One. I’ve been using Windows Media Centre via xbox360 for a number years now. I can watch all my content stored on the PC on the big screen. The interface is great (I’ve tried different media centres) but always came back to Windows Media Centre. So I won’t be jumping on to Xbox One just yet… until they add some more support in the future.

  • efraintango

    I think that even if Silicon Dust developed an app for the ONE it would not be apple to, at least not likely, stream premium channels (HBO). WMC is the only software program to my knowledge that is certified by the CableLabs to display protected channels (HBO, SHO) via CableCard from your cable providers.

  • Richard Gunther

    Technically that’s not correct. Through SiliconDust’s project:connect, they’ve already shown that properly-enabled devices (e.g., the PS3) can stream protected channels as long as they support the necessary DRM (being DTCP-IP certified). Check out our post about this at http://thedigitalmediazone.com/2013/03/31/hdhomerun-dlna-update-now-available/.

  • david95

    What does MS have to do with cable boxes and cable companies?