TV on the Xbox One: Microsoft explains its plans
Microsoft has had some fallout from its Xbox One launch. Some have said it's too focused on TV, and not enough was made of gaming. With E3 around the corner, we're pretty sure the gamers will be hyped soon, and a global launch isn't always the place to speak to the gaming crowd. Still, as long as TV is important to Microsoft, we thought it was worth delving into the nuts and bolts of it, so we asked the firm to clear up some details for us.
Firstly, the name "One" says it all. Microsoft wants this console to be the focus of your lounge. The thing that you can't live without, and the thing that binds everything together. Now, there are some problems with this strategy, because a lot of people who love home cinema will also have AV receivers and high-end TVs that all do a lot of this entertainment stuff already. But that isn't our concern right now, we want to look at how the product will work.
So first up there's an HDMI input on the Xbox. This is to allow users to connect up their existing equipment to the Xbox, then feed that signal out to the TV. This allows the One to show you a TV EPG and switch your channels for you using voice control. We're learning that the EPG will be voice serachable too, so you can say, "Xbox, when is Top Gear on" and it will search the listings and tell you. We would guess it will also be able to remind you, and change your Sky - or similar - box to the right channel, at the right time, to allow you to watch it.
What wasn't mentioned at the launch, but which we've subsequently clarified with the company, is that an IR blaster will be included. This little bit of kit was used in the very first range of TiVo boxes which landed in the UK - and are still used both here and in the US. We've seen it on Slingboxes too, where it also allows you to change the channels from anywhere in the world. Essentially, you stick it in front of your receiver, and when you ask the Xbox to show you a channel, it zaps the tuner to the right frequency and shows what's on. It's a simple system that's been around for ages. It's also a system that is very prone to failure.
Another cable was mentioned, but it wasn't clear if this would be RS232. If it is, then the Xbox would instantly be a massive seller with bigger home cinemas, because that standard is found on all high-end equipment and, although ancient, is very reliable. It's worth noting that the Sky box has an RS232 port, so there's real potential here.
What Microsoft has also explained is that it sees some content being delivered over the internet. This is already the case for the Xbox 360, which has Netflix, Lovefilm, Sky, 4oD and various other streaming services. Microsoft will hopefully use its clout to get these firms to up their game, and produce HD streams. But we won't hold our breath, it's only the BBC that has really done decent video quality on its streaming platform.
However, the second prong of Microsoft's attack is to commission its own TV shows, in the same way Netflix has. It's really pushing this, and the first show that will air is Steven Spielberg's Halo live action TV show. This is a neat idea, and while Halo has been doomed as a live action franchise - remember Peter Jackson considering a movie - it could be a hit if it thinks differently and isn't all about stuff exploding. But we doubt this will be the last thing Microsoft will commission either. It could get into everything from sport to comedy. And with the other players on board, it will be as compelling, or more so, than a traditional cable provider.
And as if all that wasn't enough, Microsoft wants the new console to be the "watercooler" too. So socially, you'll be able to chat around live sport and event programming. Perhaps with group video on Skype. This is potentially quite cool, although we wonder if people will actually want to use the Xbox for this. Only time will tell.
So while we know the Xbox One will be a great gaming platform, we also now know that Microsoft wants home entertainment in its entirety to worship at the great green cross. And with its determination, hardware and money, it might just have a chance.