If you strip away the gaming aspects of the Xbox One, what you're left with is actually a pretty nice media device. The much maligned Kinect and its voice controls work better than most pundits in the media will admit. Sure you'll have to repeat a command now and then but I find I have to click a button on my remote more than once at times, too.
Even though we have an Apple TV, a Chromecast and a Roku, the Xbox One has become our go-to device for Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, and live TV. And live TV is where I love the Xbox the most. As a Time Warner Cable subscriber I get, I dunno, 4 million channels (that might be a slight exaggeration), and I watch about 6 of them. Rather than remember that NBC is channel 5 and BBC America is channel 110 and ESPN is channel 200 and HBO is channel 508 (all examples, BBCA is the only one I actually remember), I just let the Xbox handle it. I just say "Xbox, watch ESPN" and it obligingly changes the cable box to whatever channel number ESPN is on. If I just want to browse what's on, Microsoft's OneGuide is far superior to the native channel guide that TWC provides (and it too is voice navigable).
Of course in order to enjoy this feature you need to have a cable box. The Xbox One uses HDMI pass-through to integrate live TV from your cable box into the Xbox One ecosystem. If you're a cord cutter with an HD antenna there's no way to get that feed into the Xbox (or at least no easy way). If you have basic cable and no cable box, you're similarly out of luck.
That will change for some users this fall. Yesterday Microsoft announced the Xbox One Digital TV Tuner, a peripheral that plugs into one of the USB ports on your Xbox. It allows you to integrate over-the-air content into the Xbox One system. From the images Microsoft released it looks like the tuner is a small box with a port for an antenna cable on one end, and the USB cable on the other.
Unfortunately for my readers in North America, as of now, the Xbox One Digital TV Tuner is only scheduled to release in Europe. Microsoft says it supports DVB-T, DVB-T2 and DVB-C television channels, which I hope means something to my European readers; Wikipedia tells me these are European over-the-air television standards. The TV Tuner will be available in late October for ₤24.99 in the UK, and for €29.99 in France, Italy, Germany and Spain.
I really hope Microsoft brings out a version of the Digital TV Tuner for North America. There're plenty of people living near cities that get really good HD reception with a cheap antenna; they don't want or need cable TV. The TV Tuner would allow these people to get more value from their Xbox Ones.
But my reasons for wanting it are more selfish. Mentioned in the features for the Xbox One Digital TV Tuner is this:
Pause Live TV: Pause your favorite show when you get up to take a break.
Now this is interesting because it means that the live TV is being spooled to the hard drive on the Xbox One; that's the only way they could be pausing live TV. And that's just one step away from having true DVR functionality baked into the Xbox One. That's what I ultimately want (particularly now that the Xbox One supports external hard drives, so drive space isn't an issue). The one thing I can't use Kinect voice controls for now is the stuff on my DVR, and frankly most of what I watch I watch from the DVR. The Xbox One has no knowledge of that content, and Time Warner Cable charges me $10 or $15/month for the privilege of having that DVR feature.
I would love to use the Xbox One as my DVR so that the console and Kinect would be aware of that content. I could search through what I have saved, start and stop playback via voice commands and put the old physical remote away somewhere for good. Oh yeah, and I could tell Time Warner Cable to keep its over-priced, under-functioning piece of junk DVR (not that I'm bitter, mind you) and save a few bucks on my monthly bill.
I know that Phil Spencer is really focused on his new "Xbox One is all about the games" angle, but I hope somewhere in the Microsoft Xbox division there's still a team working to improve the media box features of the console. Bringing the Xbox One Digital TV Tuner to North America would be a good indication that they're still serious about the Xbox One 'owning' the living room.
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.