Rumor: Xbox 720 has HDMI pass-thru, cable box integration features similar to Google TV

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Yes, it's true, I'm talking about the next Xbox again. Hey it's not my fault that tantalizing leaks keep springing up. It's almost like there's some giant corporation orchestrating them in the background.

Anyway yesterday The Verge ran an exlusive on the next Xbox's media capabilities. The post more or less boils down sharing that the Xbox 720, or Durango, will have HDMI pass-through and will be very similar to Google TV. Add to that Kinect features, such as (get this) the ability for Kinect to track eye movement and stop playback if you look away from the set.

Crazy tech, to be sure. But what surprised me most about this post is the comments. At least when I read it, most of the comments were really jazzed about these features.

To me the Kinect stuff is way too Big Brother. I'm sure you can disable the feature of course, but wow, my pessimistic outlook is that Microsoft is trying to force you to watch content. I doubt you'll be happy when a commercial for an erectile dysfunction treatment comes on and every time you look away the ad pauses until you look back.

I can already predict the arguments. My lady and I will be watching some TV show and she'll want to know where she's seen an actor and she'll grab her iPad (this would be a better story if she used a Surface tablet, eh?) to look him/her up on IMDB. As soon as she looks at the iPad, the TV show pauses. I fiddle my thumbs waiting. Eventually I start urging her "Will you look at the TV so I can see what happens next!?" Heh.

OK so let's assume we can turn that bit off. Google TV is out there and it isn't setting the world on fire. Why? I think the simplest answer is that there's no demand for these features. Or there wasn't until now.

Digging deeper, I think Google TV struggles because honestly it tends to be more trouble than it's worth. I bought a HiSense Pulse last December and while I really liked it at first, eventually it wound up disconnected and relegated to the closet. It was neat when it worked but it relied on too many moving parts. The IR blasters sometimes wouldn't work right, the OS itself got flaky now and then and had to be rebooted, and once the new gadget smell wore off we just weren't using its special features enough to make it worth having one more variable in the equation. The less geeky member of our household just saw it as one more thing to mess with when she just wanted to watch TV.

Now maybe Microsoft will work out all the kinks and have a system that works perfectly, but I doubt it. There are so many variables in cable boxes and televisions and entertainment room/home theater setups to contend with that they can't cover all eventualities. The IR stuff in particular concerns me, as it did with the HiSense and as it has going all the way back to the tin-foil 'tent' I used to build around my original Tivo's IR blaster. Maybe they can build it all into a separate Xbox 720 Remote (please don't ask me to control my TV watching with a gamepad).

I'm all for Microsoft continuing to run full tilt at our video streaming future. Keep adding services like Netflix, HBO Go and Amazon VOD to the new Xbox, sure. But this pass-through stuff is going to require extra hardware inside the console. Extra hardware means extra cost for consumers, and for a feature I probably won't use.

So to me, this latest rumor isn't really good news. I'm not fist-shakingly angry about it or anything but again, I was surprised at how positively The Verge's audience responded to the idea, at least initially.

Is this something that makes you want the next Xbox more?

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.

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