When Microsoft first announced the Xbox One they really emphasized the media and TV capabilities of the new console. For the next year they focused almost exclusively on games, and all the special features the console provides to gamers. This month, Microsoft has mixed up the news by announcing some great new media features and showing off some great new games.
Earlier in the month Microsoft announced that they were releasing a digital TV tuner for the Xbox One. It was news that was quite unexpected, but very welcomed. The TV tuner connects to the Xbox via USB, and it allows you to connect an over-the-air antenna. This allows you to watch live TV, with complete OneGuide integration, without needing to use the HDMI pass-through. If you’re an American, don’t get too excited just yet. It is currently only being offered in select European countries as it only supports DVB-T, DVB-T2, and DVB-C television standards. Those are essentially the European versions of ATSC and Clear QAM. While there isn’t DVR support, it’s still a great option for integrating live TV into the full Xbox One experience.
The following week was the Gamescom event. Think of this event as European E3, held in Cologne Germany. Of course there were many gaming announcements at the show, and even a slew of new hardware bundles, but they also announced another set of big media features.
One of the biggest announcements was that the console will soon have a media playback app. This app will allow you to plug in a USB connected drive and listen to music, view photos, and watch videos that are stored on it. To make it even more enticing, the list of supported codecs and containers is much longer than that of the Xbox 360. It includes H.264 and MKV, among the many others. Notably, WTV is missing from the list. In a future update to the app it will also support pulling content from DLNA servers on your home network. There’s no shortage of software that can be configured to serve up content via DLNA, so this could be an attractive option for many.
The other exciting feature to be announced is live streaming of TV from the Xbox One to any device running the Xbox One SmartGlass app. Microsoft makes SmartGlass apps for all popular mobile platforms including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Windows 8. The app would give you complete control of the OneGuide experience while streaming the video straight to your mobile device. This could all be done while someone else in your house is using the Xbox One to play games. It appeared to be a truly cross-platform option for offering live TV to mobile devices, regardless of the video service.
Unfortunately, the original announcement was light on details. One key restriction that wasn’t initially announced about the TV streaming feature was that it will initially only work with the new TV tuner. That means it only work in a few European countries, and only for over-the-air content. This isn’t entirely surprising, but it is disappointing none-the-less. When we discussed this feature on Entertainment 2.0 we wondered how this feature might work with copy-protected content, and if Microsoft would need to work out licensing deals with the TV operators. It looks like they may need to, and that could mean a long delay before many American Xbox One fans might be able to use this feature.
Even with the limitations of some of these new features, it’s still an exciting time to be following what Microsoft is doing in the living room. Obviously the Xbox One is a great gaming device, but as the media features continue to expand it is increasing its potential to actually become the device that is plugged into input one on your TV. Here at the DMZ we’d still like to see a Windows Media Center Extender app be released for the platform. There’s huge support for this idea across the Xbox community also. Regardless of what happens, we can at least be excited by the fact that Microsoft isn’t sitting still. They continue to bring new features every single month. With a few more years left of life for this product, the sky really is the limit.