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Eye on Demand | July 26, 2017

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Xbox One for Media Services Review

Xbox One for Media Services Review

Review Overview

Value For Money
5
User Interface
8
Availability and Quality of Services
8
7

The Future

Many people already know if they want a PS4 or Xbox One, the choice has been made – end of story. But with the two new generation consoles, gaming may not be the only consideration. Thoughts of sitting on the fence could just go out the window with the Xbox One’s hidden killer media feature, and I’m not talking about that HDMI pass-through!

Let’s be honest here. Few people will buy a gaming console purely for their media and home-cinema streaming options, well besides me that is. Games are cool, but that’ll come later. First and foremost, let’s have a look at how well Big Green stacks up as a platform to watch, play and enjoy movies and television.

All that said, it should come as no surprise that an Xbox One review at Eye on-Demand will focus on the platform’s streaming services and neither the consoles gaming qualifications, nor its physical media-performance other than simply mentioning it has a Blu-Ray slot which will also fit a wagon-wheel if you apply enough force.

A lot has changed in the world of home entertainment when the Xbox 360 was launched back in late 2005. A great deal of the world has moved on from physical media, and with the exception of good old fashioned vinyl’s, that in my opinion is a great thing. This digital delivery has spored a whole new way to watch television and films of which this very website is dedicated to. Sure, the old 360 adapted to that need as well, but it was always little more than an after-thought.

To start off with, excluding the main purpose of this console – gaming, this would be an extremely expensive media center when compared to the competition. The basic Xbox One will set you back US$499.99, €499.99 or £429,99 and that doesn’t include the required yearly Microsoft Live Gold Pass. That’s a lot of dosh for an STB.

Then again, the Xbox One has been designed with this exciting new world of online media at its heart. And because this is a powerful gaming machine, that heart has a rather hefty grunt, far more than any media center really needs, making this an extremely capable television streaming player that can be controlled almost by voice alone.

There is a lot to love about this over-sized black box, but like anything in the tech world, it’s not all plain sailing…

 

  • Lets get something straight here. The new Xbox One is no looker.

    Granted, I wouldn’t exactly call it ugly, but what we have is an over-sized fingerprint magnet that harks back to days of yore when set-top-boxes dominated the living room. We live in an age where devices are small enough to hardly be noticed, or even in the case of the Roku boxes, can be completely hidden. So it should come as somewhat of a surprise that such a clunky box reached the end-stage at Microsoft’s design team. Then again, this is Microsoft and not Apple.

    The console itself comes in at 33.3cm x 27.4cm x 7.9cm (13.1″ x 10.8″ x 3.1″) which may cause all sorts of issues with today’s streamlined TV stands and cabinets. The Kinect sensor demands its own attention at 24.9cm x 6.6cm x 6.7cm (9.8″ x 2.6″ x 2.63″), but get this, despite the sensor facing the world for all incoming communication and control, if you have no plans to use the Blu-Ray slot, the main unit can’t be hidden away if you plan to use a universal remote to power it up!

    Just also be aware that Microsoft suggests both that the main box does not sit on its side, and the Kinect sensor sits at least 60cm above the ground and on a steady surface, which does not include your speakers.

    Dimensions

    Despite the enormous size of this device, Microsoft couldn’t find space for a power supply, and given that this is also so enormous, I’m not entirely surprised that this is the case. If you can find a larger power brick in your home, I would love to hear about it, but generally speaking, this 17cm x 4.8cm x 7.5 cm (6.69″ x 1.88″ x 2.96″) monolith is so large it contains both it’s own fan, and a collapsed quantum singularity.

    Unlike many modern gadgets these days, the Xbox One power supply is NOT globally transportable, and is designed to only work in the region it was purchased in. If your ordered an Xbox from outside of your country, especially one with a different voltage, you would be advised to purchase a local, official Xbox One power supply.

    The following ports are located on the Xbox One:

    • Power supply port
    • HDMI out: (To TV)
    • S/PDIF: (Optical audio output)
    • HDMI in: (From Satellite/Cable or other set-top-box)
    • USB 3.0 ports: (Two ports on the rear, one on the side)
    • Kinect port: (Cable length 2.9m/9.5 ft)
    • IR out: (Infrared output port for IR blasters)
    • Networking port:
    • Lock port: (Allows you to connect a laptop lock to your console to secure it)

    It may not be easy to find a home for this box, and certainly not one built in minimalist style. On the bright side though, if you want to show off the Xbox logo, there are no less than two glowing brightly here.

    Physical Pros:

    • Built-in Blu-Ray Player.
    • Not overwhelmed with front lights.
    • Side and rear USB ports.
    • HDMI pass-through.
    • Kinect also operates as Infrared receiver (to a point).

    Physical Cons:

    • Over-sized and bulky.
    • Fingerprint magnet.
    • Kinect cable is unnecessarily thick.
    • Large and bulky external power supply brick.
    • Can’t stand on its side.
    • Can’t hide away if using 3rd party remote.

  • HDMI Passthrough:

    One of the most intriguing and touted features by Microsoft was the inclusion of an HDMI pass-through. What this basically means is that a secondary video-playing device can connect to the Xbox One’s HDMI-in connector, whose signals can then be passed through the exiting HDMI cable on its way to the TV.

    Before we go any further, it is important to point out that there are no tuners built into the Xbox One, despite the app being called “Watch TV”. This is simply to switch the display to the device at the other end of the HDMI-in port, and it does so extremely quickly. Then again, there are apps already available in selected regional stores such as Zattoo which offer live television streams.

    The main advertising feature was unified control for cable-boxes, allowing television shows to be controlled via the Xbox One, as well as instant-switching between the gaming console and cable box. For this to work as fluidly as Microsoft hopes for, third-party cable and satellite suppliers have to sign up to the service, and so far only a handful of American ones have done so, meaning it is an unsupported feature anywhere else in the world.

    The other issue for non-American users, is that Microsoft forgot that a great portion of the world operate on 220-240v 50Hz and designed this feature only to work with 60Hz devices. This means usage in the majority of Europe, Australia, China, India (and most of Asia for that matter), a good deal of South America and the Isle of Man will result in unwatchable jarring issues if local cable or satellite set-top-boxes are plugged in. Microsoft have not offered a solution for this yet, and even if it can, it probably won’t rush it out until non-American television services sign up to their OneGuide service. (note: this does not affect American made boxes in other countries such as the Roku).

    Another major issue here is that the Xbox One does not support HDMI Pass-through during standby, so if your current method to watch television is simply to press the TV’s power button on your remote, now you will have to start the Xbox One first, then switch to TV mode. Granted, this can be done by voice with the commands “Xbox on” then “Xbox watch tv”, but it is still considerably slower than just firing up a television, and does use quite a bit more juice.

    Rear

    OneGuide:

    With so many television channels that we have today, not to mention catch-up and on-demand services, it can be incredibly difficult to actually find content to watch. Microsoft hope to help us out here by merging all our television opportunities into a single TV guide called OneGuide.

    Setting up OneGuide for Americans, or in other countries when it finally becomes available is relatively easy. Simply follow the on-screen instructions after you connect your cable box to your HDMI In port and fire up the “Watch TV” app. The Xbox One should detect the incoming HDMI signal and ask if you want to use voice control. You will then have to set up your location (zip/post code), cable provider and the cable box brand.

    Controlling by voice is a little too basic to be functional, as you can call up a channel by name, but not specific programmes, which sort of defeats the whole point, especially when you realize there is no true built-in PVR included. You can go direct to a live show, but you can’t record a show without picking up your cable/satellite remote and using the traditional method.

    Hopefully, this will all improve in time. But one interesting thing to point out is that OneGuide is also set up to work via catch-up and on-demand services. Not all services make use of this, and for it to work properly, it must be one available either in your region, or supported by your Smart DNS provider such as OverPlay. But alongside the linear television channels, or exclusively on its own if you don’t plug a cable box into the HDMI pass-through, can be services such as Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Prime, Tenplay, SBS on Demand, The CW and Eurosport.

    When a streaming service is included on OneGuide, you can browse categories they may have included, such as most popular, recent etc and selecting a show will take you directly to the episode or movie. Unfortunately, not all apps support OneGuide, with notable omissions from Netflix, 4oD, Demand 5 and oddly enough, Lovefilm. Odd because the American equivalent, Amazon Instant Prime Video was present.

    Anything Goes:

    On the other hand, pretty much anything will pass through the Xbox’s One HDMI pass-through, and this even means a PS4!

    Alternatively, you can use your Roku, Apple TV box or any other on-demand STB through your HDMI pass-through, and if it is American made, it will likely already support their 60Hz format and not fall foul of Microsoft’s rather major frequency design fault.

    At the moment, no catch-up or on-demand STB‘s are supported via the OneGuide platform, and it is probably unlikely they ever will.

    In any event, making use of the HDMI In port will at the very least free up an HDMI port on your TV.

    HDMI pass-through & TV Pros:

    • Pass-through at very least frees up an HDMI port on the TV.
    • OneGuide can also work with streaming apps.
    • OneGuide can combine apps from multiple regions. (Requires Smart DNS to work)
    • When working, HDMI can switch quickly between TV and console.

    HDMI pass-through & TV Cons:

    • Major 50Hz/60Hz issue in most of the world.
    • Only selected US providers have full TV pass-through options working.
    • Not all streaming services make use of OneGuide.
    • HDMI pass-through is not supported in standby.
    • OneGuide voice control is a little too basic.

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19173″]

  • If there is anything that could help make a final decision, and if it is not exclusive games, then it could very well be the streaming apps that are available. And although it is still early days for the Xbox One, the number of television and media apps already surpass the PlayStation 4 by quite a serious margin.

    The Xbox One allows apps from different regions to be pinned to the Home screen and bundled up all together. This means that Apps from multiple countries can all be found on the one, single hub. You can mix your 4oD or BBC iPlayer from the UK with Hulu Plus from the US, and the ability to do this is not all that common in the IPTV world.

    Normally, it is one region or another, but rarely all. That said, you do have to change regions to pick up the apps, and most will only work within their geographic boundaries unless you have a Smart DNS service that supports the Xbox like OverPlay, but all this is explained in the Global and Killer Features tabs. Still, this alone makes the Xbox One, one of the most exciting media platforms currently available today.

    Click on a link for a review of a particular IPTV service, or check out the list below for the currently available English language services.

    4oD     Demand5Netflix

     

     

    CrackleLovefilm buttonTenPlay Button

     

     

    Amazon PrimeSBSBBC iPlayer

     

     

     

     

     

    Australia:

    • Crackle
    • Machinima
    • MUZU TV
    • Network Ten’s tenplay
    • Quickflix
    • SBS On Demand
    • TED
    • Twitch

    Canada:

    • CinemaNow
    • Crackle
    • Machinima
    • MUZU TV
    • Netflix
    • Rogers Anyplace TV
    • Sportsnet
    • TED
    • The NFL on Xbox One
    • Twitch

    Ireland:

    • Eurosport
    • Machinima
    • MUZU TV
    • Netflix
    • TED
    • Twitch

    New Zealand:

    • Machinima
    • MUZU TV
    • Quickflix
    • TED
    • Twitch

    United Kingdom:

    • BBC iPlayer
    • 4oD
    • Amazon\LOVEFiLM
    • Now TV
    • blinkbox
    • Crackle
    • Demand 5
    • Eurosport
    • Machinima
    • MUZU TV
    • Netflix
    • NOW TV
    • TED
    • Twitch
    • Wuaki.tv

    United States:

    • Amazon Instant Video
    • Crackle
    • CWTV
    • ESPN
    • FOX NOW
    • FX Now
    • HBO GO (coming soon)
    • Hulu Plus
    • Machinima
    • MUZU TV
    • Netflix
    • Redbox Instant by Verizon
    • Target Ticket
    • TED
    • The NFL on Xbox One
    • Twitch
    • Univision Deportes
    • Verizon FiOS TV
    • VUDU

    Available Services Pros:

    • Apps make use of the Xbox One UI.
    • Apps from multiple regions can be mixed (Requires Smart DNS to work properly).
    • Favourite apps can be pinned to the home screen.
    • Many shows can be pinned to the home screen.

    Available Services Cons:

    • Missing several vital streaming apps including the BBC iPlayer, ABC iView, PBS Video, TVNZ etc.
    • Only shows from current region show up on the pinned section.

     

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19173″]

  • The Xbox One uses a tile-based user interface that should be visually familiar to Windows 8 and Windows Phone users, where square or rectangular blocks highlight apps and functions and it all scrolls horizontally.

    Personally, I find it pleasant, if a little cluttered, but over-all it is both simple enough to not overwhelm, and yet provide almost everything you need.

    This horizontal plane is split into three different sections, Pins, Home and Store.

    Home lies at the center of the UI, literally, and the largest rectangular tile will show your last accessed app, whether that is a game, a TV streaming service or even what is plugged into the other end of the HDMI pass-through cable. Below that will be a small selection of recently started apps, to the left your account details and to the right a couple of control apps and the snap feature – the ability to snap secondary apps to the currently operational one.

    Pins are where all your favourite apps can be stored. This can be your favourite games, streaming services and even TV shows if the app permits this. You can move them around to a limited degree and unpinning them won’t delete the apps as they can be accessed from alternative locations. The Pins page is probably one of the Xbox’s most powerful features, as it allows very quick access to everything that is important to you, and when you switch profiles to someone else, all their favourites suddenly appear in the Pins section.

    Store is exactly as it sounds, the place to purchase or download free apps, games or TV shows and films from Microsoft’s own store.

    Before you can do pretty much anything, you will have to log in to your account. This can be done manually, but Microsoft promise a somewhat cooler way to do it automatically, via face recognition.

    Logging in by face recognition ranges from blitzing fast to agonizingly slow. Sometimes, the Kinect sensor recognizes your face immediately, which is an important thing since most catch-up or on-demand services require a login before they will run. The problem is, at other times it seems unbelievably slow, so slow I have been known to give up and just manually log in. Like the issues with Kinect’s voice recognition, it is almost like the sensors go to sleep.

    When it does work, it works incredibly well. The face recognition will even pick up other users in your home as they walk into the scene and greet them. They can switch easily to their own profile at any time, which incidentally has not yet been tested on four year-olds who don’t care to much for the word stop.

    As for controlling the console, Microsoft have provided a plethora of options to be discussed in the following tabs.

    UI Pros:

    • Pinned apps and shows make a great hub to easily access material.
    • Apps from multiple regions can be pinned on the single hub (Requires Smart DNS to work properly).
    • Automatically logs in via facial recognition.
    • Can be controlled by the controller, voice, hand gestures, SmartGlass or a programmable universal remote (not supplied).
    • Easy switching between profiles.
    • Each profile contains own Pins or favourites.

    UI Cons:

    • Voice and hand gestures need improving.

    Check out Microsoft’s official demo of the launch release UI:

  • Reading around the web prior to receiving the Xbox One, I saw a large number of reviews that described the included browser in incredibly positive terms. Words such as awesome and amazing we’re branded, along with descriptions of one of the best browsers anywhere. It was a bit like being stuck in the middle of an Apple fanboy conference, which just goes to show Apple aren’t alone in this sad phenomenon.

    Still, there is quite a bit to praise over, so let’s start with all that awesomeness. The user interface is actually the best I have seen on a tv or set-top-box anywhere, with excellent use of SmartGlass to navigate almost as easily as on a computer. Finally a virtual touch-pad app that is almost as good as a real touch-pad.

    But it doesn’t stop there. The way Microsoft have implemented their controller to navigate the web pages is almost as ingenious. While it will never be as good as a real computer, it is far from painful which is the usual way I describe browsers on set-top-boxes. It even betters the PlayStation’s DualShock 4 controller, which is quite a difficult task, though if they ever get around to implementing the controller’s touch-pad, the Xbox could have a run for its money.

    Controller Browser

    Then again, you can even browse by voice which sort of works. Ok, when I first told the browser to go to the BBC, it sent me to Facebook, which doesn’t even sound like B-B-C, but it did work most of the time. Even hand gestures worked better than it did through most other apps. With a combination of voice and hand movements, in a scene almost reminiscent of Minority Report, I found I could browse without any devices in my hand at all.

    In fact, for the first time ever, the hand gestures worked in front of an audience as I showed it off, impressing them, which didn’t result in the usual feeling of acting like an idiot.

    That unfortunately is where the awesomeness ends.

    The thing is, if I have a browser on a TV, about the only thing it would be good for, is watching television. It’s not a big ask after all, for if I want to generally browse, like everyone else I would use a computer, smart phone or tablet. but a TV makes a perfect platform to actually watch TV.

    So if there is one job I would want the browser on a TV to do, it would be to stream television – something browsers can do very nicely on a laptop or computer.

    Am I really the only one who thinks it is a little odd that the browsers on TVs are generally speaking the least likely ones that can actually stream television?

    Do the good folk at Microsoft not see the irony here, where their fantastic browser will listen to what I say or obediently follow my hand around, but refuse to work with anything but YouTube?

    As an example of how bad the situation really is, below is a list of services tested through the web browser on the Xbox One and only one passed the test!

    Web tests Xbox One

    There is no doubt the Xbox One’s browser is the finest I have used on any set-top-box (including dedicated Smart TVs). However, being a television connected device, I am more than just a little disappointed I can’t actually watch television through it.

    Browser Pros:

    • SmartGlass works beautifully as a virtual touch-pad for the Xbox One’s browser.
    • Xbox Controller is so well set up, it actually works really well.
    • Browser is fast to use and navigate.
    • Excellent Zoom controls to read while further away.

    Browser Cons:

    • Virtually no video streaming websites work.
    • Many HTML5 websites still default to the FLASH streams.
    • No FLASH.

  • The whole concept of speaking to my appliances fill me both with excitement and fear. Ok, the Xbox is unlikely to respond like Hal 9000, but there is something a little spooky about a machine watching and listening to me all the time. Still, it is sort of exciting and I do look forward to the day when I can ask my fridge to fry me a bacon sandwich.

    All that said, I haven’t had a lot of success with speaking to machines. When I first tested Siri on my iPhone, I tried to text my wife who was out shopping only for it to phone my friend in Australia where it was 3am. Ouch. Would Kinect be any better?

    It certainly looked incredibly impressive on Microsoft’s pre-release demonstration of Project Natal, where a woman chatted to a virtual child with almost realistic life-like AI. Microsoft obviously left a few microprocessors out for the final release, but let’s start with the positive stuff.

    When it works, it works really well.  In fact, it is quite amazing. You can fire up the Xbox One by simply telling it to turn on, select a streaming service by voice, browse and play the content while walking around the living room collecting your toddlers toys or cooking up a Lasagne.

    Xbox On

    The Xbox One will do more of what you ask than your own kids, which on its own has to be saying something. This is because the Xbox One listens to everything in your room 24/7. It’s always listening. Now, this could bother a few people worried about privacy issues, conspiracy theorists or pretty much everyone in Germany. But it is possible to disable this feature if you like.

    But presuming you wish to use the Xbox One’s voice recognition, you can pin your favorite shows to the home screen and start them up with a single phrase. If you are resuming a show, it can even begin playing on that one command without any further instructions.

    You can pause, fast forward and rewind, or browse without barely an issue once you learn the basic voice commands, but oddly enough, it won’t let you keyword search. And this is where any form of artificial intelligence that Microsoft originally hinted would be possible falls flat.

    But that’s not the biggest catch. The problem is that it has a lot more in common with your teenagers than I first let out. For a start, while sometimes it will listen and understand everything I say, even with a quiet voice at the far end of the room, other times it just ignores me entirely. I can yell, speak slowly, or separate words more carefully and still it remains totally uninterested. This not only irritates the user, but pretty much anyone else in the room who has to put up with repetitive shouting at the box.

    Five minutes later, and no change in background noise and the Xbox is back in a good mood. Hopefully some kids using this will realize what it’s like to be parents ;O)

    A printable guide to Xbox One voice commands can be found here.

    Voice Pros:

    • Can switch on or turn off Xbox (and TV) with a single command (Turning off requires additional confirmation).
    • When it works, voice control does a fantastic job.
    • An enormous range of control is possible purely by voice.

    Voice Cons:

    • Voice control doesn’t always work.
    • Not all countries support all voice commands (Australia for instance will not support “Xbox On” at launch).
    • No true search with voice.
    • Always listening can spook conspiracy theorists, and may be a hackable security issue in the future.

  • If life isn’t science fiction enough for you yet, just keep in mind that the Xbox has a wide, high definition eye that watches you whenever it is on, that can see in the dark and is so sensitive, it can measure your heart rate. Basically, it knows if it’s killing you.

    Thankfully, there won’t be an Xbox overthrow of society as it’s Kinect motion control currently works like a lemon, at least for streaming services. I did have much more success testing out a fitness app, but pretty much the only thing the Xbox One offers regarding motion control on any of the catch-up or on-demand apps are the cut-down and over-cumbersome hand-gestures used globally.

    HandIf you watched the almost science-fiction Xbox One Demo video that came out in May, you may have been blown away by Yusuf Mehdi’s Minority Report style hand gestures as he swiped through the UI in fluid movements that looked simply too good to be true. And it was.

    The final release version of the Xbox One has no such fluidity. Instead, an open-palm gesture generally informs the Xbox One to begin following your hand movements, though it fails to ignite the gesture-recognition so often, a face-palm is more often than not the resulting gesture. In fact, it is more likely to pick up my foot resting on a table and confusing it for my hand than my actual hand itself. If it does work, an awkward grasping + swipe movement flips between screens and an even more awkward push forward with the open-palm (or my foot) is required to select an item.

    Considering Microsoft claim their Kinect sensor is so sensitive it can work in almost pitch darkness and can measure our heartbeat, I would have thought something a little more elegant such as basic finger movements would be all that is required. Yusuf Mehdi’s gestures would have been good enough, but what we have ended up with will pretty much kill the feature for streaming services.

    Kinect Pros:

    • When it works, face recognition is fast and useful.
    • Can technically see in the dark.
    • Can technically measure your heart rate.

    Kinect Cons:

    • Always watching can spook conspiracy theorists, and may be a hackable security issue in the future.
    • Very finicky and does not always work as intended.
    • Catch-up and on-demand apps don’t make any worthwhile use of gestures.

    For a list of hand-gestures in PDF format, click here.

    Check out a video of how Microsoft hinted the motion-gesture control would work…

  • If one input device on the new Xbox One has been spared criticism from reviewers and buyers alike, it is the updated controller.

    Ergonomically, the new controller is a pleasure to hold. The weight feels just right in the hands, with rubberized grips on the analogue sticks and a reassuringly solid click on the D-pad. The rear triggers even sport additional rumbling options which can work great in some games, though thankfully they have not been implemented for browsing around Netflix.

    The giant big Xbox button at the center gets all lit up like a Xmas tree when the controller is awake, and apparently, Kinect can also see the controller when it’s in the hand and who is holding it, although outside of gaming I would imagine this to have limited applications.

    The controller can also operate as an infrared blaster to switch on your television, hi-fi and other devices. Microsoft have been known to almost compare it to a universal remote such as the Logitech Harmony, but in reality it is of course far more limited.

    As a media center controlling device, it is not as practical as a good old-fashioned remote, but it is still the most reliable and universal controller supplied in the box. Combined with voice control, the controller will be sufficient for most people, although others may want to begin programming their Logitech Harmony.

    Controller

    All that gloss and high praise is certainly well earned, but that isn’t to say there aren’t a few issues regarding the use of the controller for streaming services.

    For a start, it is a two handed affair, which works great for action games, but we really just need a single handed remote for the television, which does make it a little less cosy with your partner on the sofa.

    Secondly, the controller falls asleep after a while, which requires an extended multi-button action and lengthy time to simply pause a show. It clearly is easier and quicker to simply yell out “Xbox Pause”, but if that fails to work, which on many occasions it can, pausing a TV show turns from a single button press which we grew to love from the 1980’s to a combination of shouting at the TV and scrambling for a two-handed device that requires a wake-up period and three button presses.

    The controller is initially supplied with two standard AA batteries, but it may pay to replace these afterwards with rechargeable ones.

    Controller Pros:

    • Beautifully designed.
    • Ergonomically comfortable.
    • Extremely responsive.
    • Additional rubble motors in the triggers as well as standard.
    • Kinect can tell who is holding the controller.
    • Operates as an infrared blaster.
    • can also be hard-wired by optional USB cable.
    • AA battery for power.

    Controller Cons:

    • A little too sleepy if you ask me.
    • No real one-handed operation for streaming services.

    Xbox One Controller

  • Of all the control features that Microsoft’s Xbox One has on offer, possibly the one with the most potential is SmartGlass. Unfortunately, at least from launch day, this is also the most poorly implemented of them all.

    The potential is phenomenal for online streaming services. At its very least, the touch-screen mobile device makes the perfect remote. Tablets have the advantage of more screen real estate, perfect for film or TV posters. But even mobile phones or the iPod Touch has its own merits die to one-handed operation.

    Swiping along the screen to browse and navigate effectively shrinks the size of otherwise overwhelmingly large libraries. How amazing would it be to simply find the content you want on your hand-held device, and then when you press play, it fires up your Xbox app and begins playback. Well, this does work on many iOS apps via AirPlay and the Apple TV, but AirPlay itself is not even needed here since the actual streaming can be done directly via the Xbox One app.

    Some Apps have already added Chromecast buttons to achieve this on the tiny US$35 dongle, and others have buttons also for other devices like the Roku or selected Smart TVs. But there is nothing like this yet on the US$500 monolith. Instead, the much touted improved Xbox One SmartGlass offers little more for catch-up and on-demand services than a terribly designed virtual remote.

    The Terribly Designed Virtual Remote.

    Normally, the first action of a remote control is to switch on a device. Since the SmartGlass remote needs the Xbox One to be on before it can connect, you can’t even do that here.

    Even as a virtual remote, SmartGlass just gets it so wrong. Instead of offering a mirrored action of the touch screen, all movement is controlled by swipes, which to be honest doesn’t work well. To browse and do anything but the basics of Pause, Play, FFW or REW takes more effort than should be necessary. There is a thoughtful volume control, but even that requires the control to be activated rather than just have a slider on the screen at all times.

    Probably the biggest advantage the second-screen remote could offer is a proper keyboard to help type text which is notoriously slow via any other method. And even here SmartGlass can get it so wrong. While some apps like Netflix will bring up the virtual keyboard, it is not globally utilized on many other apps.

    All we can do is hope that a) Microsoft get their act together and improve their basic remote significantly, and b) third party streaming services begin to both add support for the Xbox One directly on their proprietary apps, as well as decent second-screen services on SmartGlass.

    SmartGlass Pros:

    • Enormous potential if ever implemented for streaming services.
    • Some games already have good SmartGlass second-screen services.
    • Available on Windows 8, Windows Phone, iOS and Android devices.

    SmartGlass Cons:

    • No current support for streaming services outside of basic remote control.
    • Remote control is far too basic for general use.
    • Can not switch on Xbox from SmartGlass.
    • Keyboard is not standard over all apps.
    • Volume control is poorly integrated.

     

  • Some platforms cling on to their own regions in an almost xenophobic way, denying the user access to anything but what is currently available in the country of purchase. This may have appeared rather sound in the 1950’s during the early development of the television industry and the practices that grew around it, but today the world is far more global and mobile.

    For those of us who travel for work, migrate abroad, for short or long term periods or have family roots in a different culture, these products that lock everything down to one country ignore the changing fabric of modern societies. Some do offer a limited amount of region changes but few do so freely as the new Xbox One. In this light itself, the Xbox One is right up there with the times.

    If you browse around Eye on-Demand, you may come across how-to’s, explaining the rather long-winded process of combining apps from different regional hubs onto a single Samsung Smart TV. There is an awful lot of bending over backwards, and a technical skill required that is well above the norm.

    But this is not the case with the new Xbox One. In fact, it is so easy on Xbox to not only change country regions, but to mix and match apps from right around the world, you can honestly do so by just talking to the box. Seriously, you can really do it all this easily.

    Granted, you can’t just say “Hey man, make my box cool dude.” But using the right vocal instructions you can select a new region, install the new apps, pin them to your home screen, repeat the process for any other regions and thus combine them altogether. No need for additional Live Gold Passes, nor will changing regions delete any of your current apps (as far as we have seen, but do keep in mind Eye on-Demand is not responsible in the odd case this does happen and you loose your position near the end of a long-played game!)

    Of course, most on-demand or catch-up apps are region-blocked, so you would need a good Smart DNS service in order to access those outside your own country. Here is a classic example where a VPN service simply won’t cut it, as it connects to only one country. With a good Smart DNS, you will be able to access any supported service, regardless of the country, and you will not have to make any changes to switch between countries. This really is the killer feature.

    So how easy is it really to change regions… It’s this easy!…

    Step 1:

    Enter the Xbox One Settings panel by saying “Xbox Go To Settings” and select the system box.

    Step 1

    Step 2:

    Select the Language and Location option.

    Step 2

    Step 3:

    The Language button will set what countries you can change to, for instance, if this is set to German, you may have access to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. When set to English, the options may include the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. Once your desired language is set, change the region by clicking the Location button.

    Step 3

    Step 4:

    Select your desired region from the options available.

    Step 4

    Step 5:

    Restart the Xbox by selecting the button here.

    Step 5

    When the Xbox boots again, it will be connected to the new region. You will then have access to the regions apps, which may include specific catch-up or on-demand services that are only available in certain countries, e.g. 4oD and Demand 5 in the UK, Hulu Plus in the US, SBS on-Demand in Australia.

    However, none of your previously installed apps will disappear.

    Global Pros:

    • Easy switch of regions, with no restrictions on how many times this can be done.
    • Single Xbox Live Gold membership works with all regions.
    • Apps installed in one region, remains available in all others (To access many streaming apps in another country requires a good Smart DNS service).
    • Can Pin apps from multiple regions to a single hub (Requires Smart DNS to function properly).

    Global Cons:

    • Shows pinned to the home screen often only show up in their respective region.

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

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  • In a perfect world, we would be able to have a list of our favourite shows from which ever service we subscribe to in one central hub, regardless of country or region. Imagine your favourite programmes from FTA services in the UK sitting next to your choice American shows on Hulu Plus, or your favourite Netflix series sitting next to your Lovefilm choices. Just click on them and it will take you directly to app, and the movie or TV show on the service required. No need to remember where it was, just watch and enjoy.

    Unfortunately, that is one thing which isn’t quite possible yet. Although you can mix and match apps from around the world on the new Xbox One, only the favourites pinned from your current region are actually shown in the Pins section. Still, the very act of combining apps from different regions all together is one such amazing killer feature, it could revolutionize global catch-up and on-demand access.

    Of course, accessing content from different countries on a set-top-box can only be achieved via a VPN or Smart DNS service, but a VPN has the limitation of only connecting to one country at any given time, whereas this is not an issue with Smart DNS.

    No other platform can achieve this so easily and elegantly as the Xbox One, which despite first and foremost being a gaming console, does in a way make it one of the most serious media center’s for today’s streaming services.

    Even OneGuide works well via multiple regions, allowing different services to sit alongside each other even if they were installed from a different country.

    Finally, apps will even update when you are logged into other regions, which is a great advantage. Even iOS requires users to log into each country to update region-specific apps.

    Xbox One UI Pins

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19173″]

  • There are countless options to stream television to our televisions these days, but only a few of them allow apps from multiple regions to be combined. Here is a short run down of the best.

    PlayStation 4:

    It goes without saying the most logical comparison would be the new PlayStation 4. And here the PS4 gives the Xbox One a serious run for its money. At US$100 less than the Microsoft console, but minus any Kinect controlling device, the PlayStation 4 also packs in an amazing entertainment media center for streaming content.

    Like the Xbox One, you can mix and match apps from different parts of the world (and use most of them via a Smart DNS service). Although it is slightly more complicated to set up, once done, it is actually a tad easier to switch regions and add new apps. That said, it is hardly difficult to do on the Xbox One and this is not a task which will be performed too often.

    The catch is, at least so far, the Xbox One has far more entertainment apps available from launch day. The PS4 though includes the BBC iPlayer, an essential app for British television, as well as Demand 5, NetflixAmazon Prime, Hulu Plus and a few more.

    Which is the better of the two? Well, that is such a difficult question. In most cases I tend to prefer the Xbox One, but then I haven’t really warmed to their bespoke Netflix or 4oD apps. That said, the PS4 has the iPlayer and the new Netflix UI standard that is currently rolling out.

    One thing is certainly better, Sony won’t bill you for a year’s subscription to watch otherwise free television services unlike Microsoft.

    PS4

    Samsung TV Smart Hub:

    Both the ES and F series Samsung TVs can not only change the regional app store at will, but they also have the ability to merge apps from different regions onto the single hub. In theory, this makes an amazing media center as the BBC iPlayer from the UK can sit alongside ABC iView from Australia, TVNZ On Demand from New Zealand can work alongside Hulu Plus or Netflix from the US – all of course as long as you also have a Smart DNS supplier like OverPlay who supports the Samsung platform.

    Currently the Samsung Smart Hub offers a lot more catch-up and on-demand apps than the Xbox One, especially on the F-series, including vital services like the BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, ABC iView, PBS Video etc.

    But it’s unfortunately not all a bed of roses. Granted, the apps can be merged and when they are they work really well together, but unlike the Xbox One it is using a backdoor hack that is not for the faint-hearted. First users need to change country stores whose methods differ for the ES-series or the F-series (which is the easy bit). Then, the complex procedure comes into play, which again differs between the older ES-series and the current F-series.

    Once it is all working together, users will still need to check for updates every now and again by repeating the process, as only the current regional store is automatically updated – a problem not experienced with the Xbox One.

    And sadly, the hack to merge apps from multiple regions is only applicable to the Samsung Smart TVs and not their Blu-Ray players which can only have their app store changed, but not merged.

    Samsung TV

    iOS (iPad, iPhone):

    A much easier platform to achieve this would be on iOS. Like the Xbox One, iOS is happy to allow users to change regional stores, where they can pick up apps normally only available in that region and install them. iOS is more than happy to mix apps like this and as long as a Smart DNS service is also configured such as OverPlay, that supports the iOS apps you want to use, all of the apps will happily play regardless of your location.

    One big advantage to iOS is that it offers one of the largest ranges of on-demand and catch-up apps anywhere, with almost all of the big players represented. If it is available to stream, it is generally on iOS and usually with an amazing UI. BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, ABC iView, TVNZ ondemand and pretty much everything else can be found here, with some like the BBC iPlayer and others also offering live streams and offline downloads as well.

    Add AirPlay into the occasion, and you can also watch all of this in great video quality on your main television. It’s almost too good to be true.

    The main issue would be that not all services support AirPlay. Some like All 4 and TVNZ out-rightly block it. Others like Demand 5 or most US OTA services only allow mirroring, which is almost as useful as blocking. Without the ability to send to your main TV, iOS does not appear so attractive after-all. It is such a pity, as it is clear when services employ full AirPlay such as the BBC’s iPlayer, it can be one of the best user interfaces around.

    Secondly, some services provide a reduced quality service for iOS. Even the BBC iPlayer sticks to SD quality streams only, but some go below that for the iPhone or iPod touch. This may seem logical to them as the screen is far too small for full HD streams to have any benefit, but if they do offer AirPlay, this can look pretty unattractive on the big screen.

    Finally, unlike the Xbox One which updates all apps, regardless of which region you are currently in, iOS will not do so for region specific ones. You will have to log into one of your other iTunes accounts every now and again to check for updates. Not a big deal, but a bit of a hassle still.

    iPad

     

    Over-all, the Xbox One may not have the largest range of streaming services yet, but it does have one of the best platforms for merging apps from different regions. If this is an important criteria for you, then it could very well be worth the additional cost of a Live Gold Membership.

     

  • The Xbox One is an amazing gaming console with a potentially game-breaking media center attached. Unfortunately, it’s been hit by the ugly stick, and many people will want to hide it only to find it’s probably too big to let that happen anyway. But underneath that enormous finger-print magnet facade is a real glimpse into the future.

    The Xbox One is probably only one step away from our robotic butlers moving in, where we begin talking to our appliances and waving them off in dismissive arm gestures. You see, this device really can function almost from voice alone, when it wants to, but that half-baked implementation is where the problem lies.

    When things work 100% of the time, that’s just brilliant. 95% is excellent. 80% is starting to cause a slight bit of irritation, but 70% or less and we have a problem. And 70% for voice recognition is the good side as I would probably describe my own success rate with gesture control as under 20%.

    But all that aside, Microsoft do some pretty cool things with their media services, and the ability to install and merge apps from different regions, of course combined with a good Smart DNS service like Overplay that allows many of them to work, is quite simply a killer feature.

    The apps work great and have enough grunt thanks to the hardware under the hood to never slow down or feel sluggish, all make this one of the better media centers on the market, though at a price.

    Pros:

    • Reasonable range of streaming apps on launch day (more than PS4)
    • Voice control built into platform.
    • Other control options such as Smart Glass and Kinect motion sensor built in.
    • Amazing ability to merge apps from multiple regions.
    • Easy to change regions to install different apps.
    • Fast and powerful UI.
    • Ability to Pin favourite apps to the home screen.
    • Ability on many apps to pin your favourite shows to the home screen.
    • OneGuide also offers some catch-up and on-demand services.

    Cons:

    • Limited streaming apps at launch (no ITV Player, ABC iView, TVNZ, PBS etc)
    • No HDMI pass-through on standby.
    • Large, bulky and not especially attractive.
    • External, large power supply brick.
    • Pinned favourite shows will only be visible within the region the app was installed on.
    • Kinect sometimes slow to respond.
    • Gesture control needs a lot of work.
    • No ability to easily stream your own content (yet) to the Xbox from your NAS.
    • Possibly the best browser controlling environment on any STB.

    Specifications:

    • Optical Drive: Blu-Ray, DVD.
    • RAM: 8GB DDR3, Clock: 2133MHz (5GB available to games/apps).
    • CPU: 8 Core AMD custom CPU Frequency: 1.75 GHz.
    • GPU: 853 MHz AMD Radeon GCN.
    • Storage: 500 GB non-replaceable HD.
    • Backwards Compatibility: No (not yet anyway).
    • Ports: Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11n, Ethernet, 3 × USB 3.0, HDMI 1.4 in/out, S/PDIF out, IR-out, Kinect port.
    • Display: 4K, 1080p, 1080i, and 720p resolutions.
    • Browser doesn’t play FLASH and very few major streaming sites work through it.

     

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    Photos and images of the Xbox and screenshots are property of Microsoft.

    Log:

    18.12.2013: Published. Score 7 – The Future

    09.01.2014: Updated with PS4 comparison.

    12.01.2014: Updated with Browser tab

    12.12.2014: Updated with more information.

    05.01.2015: Further minor updates.

 

Comments

  1. Nicholas Polydor

    “Even OneGuide works well via multiple regions, allowing different services to sit alongside each other even if they were installed from a different country.”

    As I asked on the PS4 post, Is it possible after the March 2014 firmware update to have the same app from different countries co-existing? Could I say, “Xbox, go to Netflix UK” and “Xbox, go to Netflix US”?

    “Finally, apps will even update when you are logged into other regions, which is a great advantage.”

    This is brilliant!

    • Hi Nick, like the PS4, you only need to install one version of Netflix. Installing more from different countries will make no difference. It will either only access your local Netflix library (if you have one in your country) or the library designated by your Smart DNS service. You can’t just say “Netflix UK” or “Netflix US”. Amazon Prime Instant Video is a bit different though. You will need a separate app from the UK and US, and separate subscriptions. It does get a little confusing then as both the Amazon apps look very similar. It’s not terribly complicated though, they do have subtle differences which you will get used to eventually – things do get a bit more complicated if you try to add an Amazon Germany app as well, as that conflicts with the Amazon UK one (not the US one). Not that you will want a German one as well in most cases, since the German’s dub everything.

      Amazon is the only complication I have found though, the rest seems to all work quite well together. I take it you are wondering which way to go, Xbox One or PS4… It’s not an easy decision. I’m preparing a direct comparison article to be published soon, just for media services (not gaming), so maybe that will help.