March 28, 2012, 8:30 AM — Today we have an interesting follow-up to yesterday's rumor of an Xbox Lite media hub headed our way in 2013. As part of a roll-out of three new streaming apps from the Xbox 360, Microsoft shared an interesting datapoint with the LA Times: Xbox Live Gold members now spend more time watching video and listening to music than they do playing online multiplayer games (as opposed to single player games or local split-screen multiplayer gaming), and in total the average Xbox Live Gold member spends 84 hours/month on the service.
Think about it. That's almost 3 hours a day, every day. That's an incredible number; Microsoft must be doing something right when it comes to their plan to take over the living room and an Xbox Lite could only make things even better for them. Right?
Though... I do have one essential question: what does "on the service" actually mean? If my Xbox 360 is turned on with me logged into my account and it's just sitting idle, am I on the service? What about all those hours I spent playing Skyrim, a single player game? I was logged into my Xbox Live Gold account, so are those hours counted in that 84 hours/month average? If so, the numbers still are a great indicator of how much use Xbox 360s are getting, but a less impressive indicator of how much time people spend streaming media. It's interesting that Microsoft didn't just say "The average user is spending over 40 hours/month streaming video and listening to music."
Anyway, on to the new apps, we've got MLB.tv, Comcast Infinity TV and HBO Go on the console now. Comcast is drawing some fire after they shared the info that bandwidth used while watching Infinity TV on the Xbox 360 won't count towards a subscriber's bandwidth cap. Great news for Comcast users, I guess, but net neutrality advocates are raising eyebrows. Ars Technica ran a great piece exploring these issues and I'll refer you to them for details, but basically Comcast is claiming the data runs over their private IP network and so is exempt from any net neutrality issues. Not everyone is buying that excuse.
Of the three new apps the only one I can offer a hands-on report for is HBO Go. We're a FiOS household and I'm not an MLB.tv subscriber. FiOS is one of the providers that supports HBO Go on the Xbox 360. Not all providers do. Here's the list lifted directly from Xbox.com:
AT&T, Bend Broadband, Blue Ridge Communications, Cablevision, Charter, Cox, Directv, Dish, Grande Communications, HTC Digital Cable, Massillon Cable/Clear Picture, Mediacom, Midcontinent Communications, RCN, Suddenlink, Verizon and Wow.
Notably absent: Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Optimum Online. Particularly strange that Comcast isn't included considering there's a Comcast Infinity TV app available on the platform.
As always, HBO GO requires a subscription to HBO through your cable provider. The company still has not seen fit to offer direct subscriptions to cable cutters, unfortunately.
Anyway, on to the hands-on portion of today's entertainment. To get HBO Go activated on your Xbox 360, you fire up the app on the Xbox and make note of a 6 character code. Then you head to http://www.hbogo.com/activate, sign in via your provider and enter the code from your Xbox. A minute or so later your Xbox will be activated.
From there it's kind of business as usual, if you've been using the other streaming media apps. You can navigate via controller, Kinect arm-waving or Kinect speech. My only issue was with some 'bleed-thru' of the white hand Kinect cursor once a show started playing. When the dog walked past the TV that hand flickered a few times. That seemed to be an issue only for a few moments after the last hand gesture was used.
Kinect controls actually work pretty well here, including swiping to 'page through' the various categories. Voice works great too, but at this point I kind of expect Kinect voice controls to work well. The technology really is quite impressive.
And that's pretty much it. I find HBO to be a pretty expensive proposition normally (we're paying $15 or $16/month in addition to our cable bill to have it) but adding HBO Go to the mix definitely improves the value. There's a generous backlog of HBO series on tap and lots of great viewing that you can't find elsewhere unless you're willing to buy or rent optical media.
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