(Pocket-lint) - If you want or need further confirmation that Microsoft has a different path for its current console than Sony's route with the PS4 to date, the Xbox One Digital TV Tuner is it.
By effectively turning the Xbox One console into a Freeview HD set-top-box, should you live in a supported European country (it's not available in the USA), the Xbox One TV Tuner is a no-brainer. Here's why.
Freeview for £25
The Xbox One has had the ability to control television output almost since launch. However, in the UK that has been limited to Sky and Virgin Media customers, with the console able to accept a feed from either service's own boxes and control them in return through the excellent OneGuide (even voice, if you have a Kinect).
If you are not a customer of either though, that was a superfluous feature until now. The Digital TV Tuner changes that as it offers the entire gamut of Freeview channels, standard and high definition, that work with OneGuide and have a few features thrown in for good measure.
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You can pause and rewind live TV, for example, and stream television broadcasts to an iPad, iPhone or Windows device (whether phone or full desktop OS) running SmartGlass. But we'll come to that in a bit.
The Tuner itself is small and unassuming to look at. It will no doubt sit behind the console, plugged into one of the two available USB ports on the rear, so aesthetics aren't hugely important. A coaxial aerial lead needs to be plugged into the other end of the device and that's about it. You can use a wall socket for a roof aerial for the best results or an indoors aerial if your digital television signal is strong enough.
It can also be attached to a cable service for other regions, but we'll have no truck with that in dear ol' Blighty.
In terms of setup, it's a doddle. Plug the TV Tuner into the USB port with the Xbox One already switched on and it recognises it instantly. An on-screen wizard will then take you through the rest of the process and it takes around 10 minutes, including scanning for Freeview TV and radio stations.
It will also ask you if you want to set-up control over your TV too, to switch it on and off when you start-up your Xbox One console. You'll have to go into the settings later to add additional home entertainment kit, like an amplifier or receiver, but that's also simple.
Once done, you can start to watch TV instantly. It's not really clear how far-reaching an electronic programme guide (EPG) the OneGuide offers, in terms of days-worth of programme information, but ours had complete listings for eight days before it started to show "no information" signs. And when there's no recording functionality, the ability to peer into the future isn't quite so important.
OneGuide does offer bonuses that aren't available on conventional EPGs however. It integrates App Channels, so you can access streamed content from a number of services, including YouTube and Twitch. Plus, coming with the November Xbox One update (or available now if you are on the Preview Programme like us) is an up-to-the-minute trending section that tells you what shows and films other Xbox One users are either watching or writing about on Twitter.
And, of course, the whole thing is voice-controlled if you have a Kinect sensor, so you can just say things like "Xbox watch BBC One" and it will switch channels for you.
Ultimately, though, what you'll be doing most with the Digital TV Tuner is watching TV and we must say we're very impressed with the picture quality of broadcasts, especially in HD. We would go as far to say that the picture performance is better than the HD tuner inside our Samsung 55-inch LED TV (although it is a few years old now, to be fair).
Audio is also very presentable, delivering Dolby Digital surround sound where possible on the HD stations according to our Onkyo TX-NR838 receiver.
But one of the most impressive features, something we've not seen implemented often, is that once you have a Digital TV Tuner plugged into your Xbox One you can watch any of the Freeview channels live through SmartGlass on an iPad, iPhone or Windows device, as well as control the control the output on a TV.
Strangely, that feature is yet to be made available for the Android version of the Xbox One SmartGlass app, as we found out on an Nvidia Shield Tablet, but we suspect that is incoming as it's an odd omission. It's perhaps something to do with the way Android decodes video, which has forced the BBC to release a separate media player to handle iPlayer feeds in the past. That's just an assumption though and it's a case of watch this space for Android owners.
For iOS and Windows device owners however it's an excellent additional feature. You can still pause and rewind TV on your smartphone or tablet, but it does come with some caveats. The feed is delayed by several seconds as the Xbox One buffers the video before streaming. You can also only use the feature on your own home network at present - no external streaming over a mobile connection.
As there is only one tuner you can only watch what's on the main screen's TV channel if somebody else is using it too. However, that doesn't impact gaming - so if you want to watch a show while somebody else fancies a gaming session or to watch something on Netflix that's no problem.
It's even the main reason we can find for Sky and Virgin Media customers to consider adding this Xbox One Freeview tuner tuner too. Although they won't really get much use out of the live channels (which appear above their own service's listings in the OneGuide as additional listings, in a neat and orderly fashion) unless their conventional set-top-box fails for some reason, they can still use the SmartGlass streaming feature. And they can even watch a TV programme on their iPad while somebody else watches output from the TiVo or Sky box through the Xbox One.
Priced at £25, the Xbox One Digital TV Tuner is a no-brainer for those who don't subscribe to either Virgin Media or Sky. And it's a cheap enough addition to their new-gen console experience even for those who do. Its live TV streaming abilities are almost worth that price alone - unless you have an Android device, although that will surely change soon enough.
We're really impressed with the picture and audio performance too, although we only tried it hooked up to a wall socket and therefore roof aerial in the heart of London. The signal quality based on that connection was superb - something that might change in other regions with more troublesome Freeview reception, but you can check that in the UK using Freeview's postcode-checker website.
But that aside, with this new accessory and apps such as Plex media streaming, Now TV and Microsoft's own DLNA Media Player, the Xbox One is rapidly becoming the do-it-all home entertainment machine the company always promised it would be. It's finally finding its own feet in a console war with a PS4 that seems to be packing all its eggs into a game-centric basket.