Sign in to follow this  

How the next Xbox can win the cable TV war

Recommended Posts


The battle for the future of television is just beginning, but it looks to be a long one. One of the key players is Microsoft, which has spent the past several years morphing its  Xbox 360 from a straight-up gaming console into one of the best video-streaming boxes you can buy.

Of course, the current Xbox 360 is getting long in the tooth, and the next-generation model is expected to be announced soon, and to be available as early as the end of 2013. And TV services look to be just as central to the core of that device as gaming.

Last week, The Verge reported that Microsoft plans to enable live TV access on the upcoming console:


The functionality will work by taking a cable box signal and passing it through to the Xbox via HDMI, allowing Microsoft's console to overlay a UI [user interface] and features on top of an existing TV channel or set-top box.


That story would seem to confirm earlier rumors that the next Xbox would have support for live TV input, among other upgraded entertainment options, including Blu-ray.

So, the "Xbox 720" is taking a page from Google TV. But is that wise? Gigaom's Janko Roettgers asks, "Really, Microsoft? Your vision for the future of TV HDMI cable?" He makes some solid points, ending his argument with "HDMI pass-through is the ultimate admission of defeat."

Maybe so. Google TV, after all, was hardly the sort of game-changer we've seen from Google's search engine or  Android OS. But, ironically, Google TV-style HDMI pass-through -- in which media from your existing cable box or DVR is viewed through your Xbox -- might be a necessary, and even genius, short-term move on the way to owning the doorway to the future of home entertainment.

Here's why.

The future of cable TV is apps... but that future's not here yet

Yes, video apps are beautiful. They're fun. They're becoming ubiquitous. But they're not cable-box or DVR replacments yet. HBO Go is the reigning example of the shining future of apps, but most other cable TV networks don't have anything like it. Cable providers themselves have a cluttered hit-and-miss landscape of apps. The result: most wannabe cord-cutters can only go halfway.

Using an Xbox 360 for video is an awesome experience, but it's a cable TV accessory, not a cable replacement. The Xbox 360 currently boasts a huge assortment of video services, including Netflix, Vudu, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video, and HBO Go, as well as apps for Fios and Comcast. Those cable apps are nice, but they fall short of the "cable TV as an app" experience that many are looking for. Channel selection is limited: the Fios app offers 75 live channels, while Comcast's Xfinity app offers only on-demand programs (no live TV). There's also no integration with programs you've recorded on your DVR.

And that's the problem. The current TV experience on Xbox seems to be an either-or proposition: on-demand or live, but not both. And that's hardly limited to the Xbox -- even Roku's promising Time Warner Cable app lacks on-demand content, at least for now.

An HDMI input lets the Xbox get full access to all of your cable content -- both live and recorded -- without having to wait for cable and satellite companies to improve their apps. The future of pay TV is undoubtedly streaming, but Microsoft can use an HDMI input as a bridge until the industry catches up. Given the cable industry's tortoiselike pace of innovation, it makes sense not to wait.

Google TV's main failing: Not clever enough about HDMI-in

If all this sounds familiar, that's because it's precisely the same pitch made for Google TV when it was introduced over two years ago. And we know how that went.


Still, Google TV's problem has always been the execution, rather than the concept. Aggregating and searching between all the content providers you pay for is still a good idea, it just needs to be done in a way that doesn't involve a 70-button remote.


With the Xbox 360, Microsoft has proven it "gets" the living-room experience, much more than Google has so far. Everything about the Xbox 360's video offerings is geared toward the "lean back" experience, whereas Google TV tried to bring Google's Chrome to your TV, a la Web TV. Voice search via the Kinect remains one of the fastest ways to find content and one of the few times it's worth using voice commands. It feels like the future. All it's missing is your cable and DVR data.

The real challenge will be working with cable and satellite providers to get the "hooks" needed to interact with their set-top boxes in a meaningful way. (Many cable and satellite providers already offer apps that permit smartphones to double as remote controls via Wi-Fi, for instance -- much more reliable and faster than relying on IR blasters.) Google TV only integrates well with Dish Network; Nintendo's TVii (the TV control scheme built into the Wii U controller) is similarly limited to TiVo. In other words, if you're using another company's DVR -- Comcast, Time Warner, DirecTV, Cox, whatever -- you need to fire up your box's EPG and find the program yourself, defeating the purpose of aggregating the content in the first place.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this