When the Xbox One made its entrance back in May, showing off its slick, boxy body and collection of Kinect tricks, we were treated to a little taste of how it was not only going to play games but also take charge of your TV. Since then, we haven't heard to much more, but we sat down with Microsoft to find out more about what this will all look like. Turns out it looks like pure future.
We've seen plenty of TV and plenty of Kinect voice control in teasers so far, but they only scratch the surface of what's lying underneath. Thanks to the HDMI passthrough that runs your cable from your set-top box, through your Xbox One, and then into the TV, the console can take total control of your content and it's glorious.
Menus and more
Instead of dealing with the sluggish, unintuitive, remote-requiring set-top box menu that comes by default, the Xbox One instead pulls all of that information into its own tile-based overlay called OneGuide, which is not only prettier, but waaaay better than anything coming out of your set-top box.
Through this Xbox-enabled channel menu, you can browse through channels with your controller instead of a stupid remote, or just issue commands by voice if you've got your Kinect set up. Can't be bothered to remember channel numbers? No problem, the Xbox One is perfectly capable or responding to commands with channel names. We saw the future of turning on US television channel AMC by saying "Turn on AMC", and seeing it in real life for the first time really makes you feel like you're in Star Trek.
And while you still might be stuck getting a bajillion TV channels you don't care about with the five or six you actually want, the Xbox One can at least help clear the menu clutter by letting you organise your own customised menus that feature just the channels you want. What's more is that this should work with all major pay TV providers out there. The Xbox One controls your set-top box with a built in IR blaster, so basically it's just a giant remote. It's not like your stupid little box has to have any crazy features or compatibility; the Xbox One is doing all the heavy lifting. All your pay TV provider has to do is offer up access to its schedule, and it does that for DVRs already.
Don't have pay TV? You can still set up "channels" from your favourite on-demand video services. That, plus your pay TV faves if you have any, makes OneGuid everything you want — and just what you want — all in one place. And virtually any place you can use your controller, you can also use your voice, for added futuristic sci-fi flair. It can be a little weird now and then, but it never gets old.
Naturally, streaming video on the Xbox One is only going to be as good as its apps. Here's a list of partners who are working to be on the system at launch.
- Amazon Instant Video
- FOX NOW
- HBO GO (coming soon)
- Hulu Plus
- MUZU TV
- Redbox Instant by Verizon
- Target Ticket
- The NFL on Xbox One
- Univision Deportes
- Verizon FiOS TV
Casting from the cloud
Of course you may have other things you want to put up on your TV too. Maybe you've got some photos from a holiday you want to slideshow, or a stupid video you took with your mobile phone, or some perfectly legal video files you downloaded to your computer from a perfectly legal source. The Xbox One can help you out there too. Through deep integration with Microsoft's cloud app, you can stream videos directly from your Skydrive to your TV through the Xbox, or pin albums of pictures to your channel menu for easy showing off.
On top of that, you can also beam media from your Windows 8 computer directly to the Xbox One through the Charms menu, so long as both devices are on the same network. Sure, you can also do that with Windows 7 and Xbox 360, but now it's literally at your fingertips.
Magical, but not mandatory
And all that's just the new stuff. We also took a Skype call that came in over what was playing on TV, swapped from Internet Explorer to Forza Motorsports 5 to Xbox Music to Skype and back again in seconds by barking commands. We watched a video game and live TV on the same screen at the same time. You know, stuff we've know about from the start, but that is still awesome to see finally coming together. This is the beautiful future.
But maybe the best part of all this is that if you don't want to run full-speed into the future, or cede control of your channel surfing to a Kinect or Xbox controller, you don't have to. All of this just sits on top of what you already had. So any luddites who are particularly set in their ways remain completely undisrupted while you shout at your TV and giggle to yourself with glee.
It's a pretty impressive suite of functionality, and it's exciting to start seeing it really come together in person. And even better is the fact that this box also plays really terrific video games. The set-top box part is its part-time job. But anything worth doing is worth doing well, and the Xbox One seems to know that. Yes, we're excited to play Titanfall. But, hot damn, changing channels is going to be awesome too.