I am sure there are lots of reviews about the gaming aspects of the Xbox One (personally I can’t get enough time on Forza Motorsport 5) but in this review I want to focus the media features of Microsoft’s new console. The Xbox One is much more of an all-round entertainment device than the Xbox 360, so what can it do and what features has the Xbox One dropped?
When you connect up the Xbox the first new feature you notice is a HDMI input, this is something new to the Xbox One and part of Microsofts aim of making the Xbox One the device you leave on, connect to your TV. If you are in the US you get the Xbox OneGuide which is a great looking EPG that links in with your cable box, unfortunately this great looking integration is not available in the UK so I wasn’t able to test it. What it does do is save you input switching when going from your set top box (in my case a Sky+ box) to the Xbox One, it also saves switching the audio receiver inputs as well so that is a nice feature however this is one big issue with it.
HDMI pass-through is a great idea and I love the idea of the picture being a tile in the dashboard and being able to snap other apps to the side but unfortunately for me the video quality is just not good enough. Normally I have my Sky+ box directly connected to my HDTV so I thought I would try it via the Xbox One. While I like the each features it brings I couldn’t live with the picture quality as you can see from example photos the colour looks washed out compared to the direct connection.
It was very noticeable on HD channels, also the frame rate didn’t seem as smooth especially noticeable when watching the Formula One, I could live with the frame rate issues but not the colour. My wife could tell straight away, normally she puts up with me messing with our setup but the colour issue is so noticeable I had to switch it back. It’s a shame that the quality couldn’t be maintained (it’s all digital after all) as I would love to keep the Xbox as the main device but it’s so noticeable that it’s not worth compromising. I tried changing the settings on the Sky box and the Xbox One video settings but it made no difference. It is certainly not an issue with the Xbox One, the games look fantastic the problem seems to be only with the HDMI input. I also tried connecting in an Apple TV which seems to have the same issues. Maybe Microsoft can improve this via software and I will look at it again.
What is pretty slick is the way the Xbox can detect your TV and control it over HDMI-CEC/IR Blaster, it asks the model of your TV and then it sends a test message. Straight away it worked with my Samsung TV and can control the volume of the device. It’s either using HDMI-CEC or IR from the Kinect, you can use the Kinect voice control to control your TV which is pretty sweet.
The Xbox One has an app store and in that store there are a few media apps. One service I use a lot is Netflix and the Xbox One implantation is excellent, I have been using Netflix via my Samsung Blu-ray player and while the UI works fine it’s pretty basic, the Xbox One Netflix UI looks very slick and is very much like the version for Windows 8. It’s much better for finding actors and titles and supports profiles and lists. I will not be going back to my Blu-ray player for Netflix any more. There are also apps from Channel 4, YouTube and TED. It would be good to see BBC iPlayer, Sky Go and ITV bring apps to the Xbox One, hopefully soon.
The Xbox 360 supported HD-DVD but the format died off a few years ago and Microsoft never brought Blu-ray to the 360 so the Xbox One is Microsoft first console that supports Blu-ray. As a Blu-ray player it works well, discs are fast to start up and navigation is easy. Plus you can also switch between playback and other apps on the Xbox One dashboard which works very well. What didn’t seem to works is 3D playback, I tried a 3D movie and it just played it in standard 2D. I have read that it’s a feature that may ship in a future update but it doesn’t seem to work at the moment. I only have one 3D movie so this is no great loss to me, so again I will use the Xbox One and not use my standalone player.
Xbox Video is Microsoft store fronts for video content. You can buy or rent movies, buy TV episode or buy a season pass of a TV show. The UI is neat and it works as well as the rest of the Xbox One experience, to be honest I am more interested in using it with my own content rather than purchasing from the store but clean UI and good selection of content are appealing.
Xbox Music includes content from Microsoft’s music store as well as content you have synced up using the Xbox Music app on a Windows 8 device. If you have an Xbox Music Pass you can stream music to the Xbox, I don’t have an Xbox Music app but I do have a Google Music All Access subscription which you can use on the Xbox but more on that later. I like the UI of the music app, I need to spend some more time with it to see how well it works.
Both Xbox Music and Xbox Video work as Play To targets (which uses DNLA). What you can’t do is browse DNLA servers and pick content stored on a server which is a shame, you have to push content to the Xbox from another device. From a Windows 8/8.1 machine you can push video or music to the Xbox One by using the Windows Devices charm.
I successfully streamed video from my Surface to the Xbox One with no issues at all, I could also stream music to the Xbox Music app as well. You do have to actually install the Xbox Video and Xbox Music apps from the store before you can stream the content, it may sound obvious but the apps are not actually installed on the Xbox One out of the box. The Play To features are actually the most useful part of the Xbox One’s media apps if you have your own collection of content but you are going to need another device to actually make use of it. By that I mean you can’t just have a DLNA server and then go to the Xbox and play the content, you need a client app to start the playback.
Using a DLNA app on my Android phone I streamed music and videos from my phone and I even got it working with Google Play Music, so I could stream music from Google cloud service to the Xbox One, I don’t expect Google to release a Google Play Music app for the Xbox any time so this is a good workaround. I will write up the exact steps in another blog post.
Also using DLNA I could also stream live and recorded TV to the Xbox One via DVBLink TV Server. DVBLink is a software solution for network enabling a TV tuner and it supports DLNA, so from my Android phone I selected my DVBLink server (running on a Raspberry Pi) and pick the Xbox One as a target. You can pick either a live TV channel or recorded TV as the target and you can use Internet Explorer on the Xbox to browse the EPG. I will write the exact steps on a blog post soon.
What about Windows Media Center? Well the Xbox 360 is the only device that will work as a Windows Media Center Extender for Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 and despite the wishes of Media Center enthusiasts the Xbox One has no such features. It’s a shame but understandable, Windows Media Center is a legacy technology as far as Microsoft are concerned so there was no chance of it showing up on a next generation console. That doesn’t mean you can’t watch Media Center recorded TV on it, you could use the Play To features I talked about above to send recorded TV from a Media Center PC to the Xbox One. You could also use a dedicated Windows Media Center PC and connect it to the Xbox One’s HDMI input port which would give you Media Center on the Xbox but you would still need a remote for the PC as well as the Xbox controls so it’s not really a true replacement for a Windows Media Center Extender.
I am sure I will find other media features as I spend more time with it but so far I am impressed. The fast app switching really makes a differences and its now my go to device for all my content except for Sky TV due to the HDMI input issue. Also there is no local storage options for media, so you can’t store video or music on the device so you are going to have to use SkyDrive on another device on your network which is a shame. The Xbox One has great potential as a home entertainment device and that is in addition to the gaming which features which are very impressive in their own right I just hope we can see more apps come to the device soon and Microsoft can improve the DLNA and local media features. Lookout for my articles on how to use Google Music with the Xbox One and how to use DVBLink with the app coming soon.
- Fast app switching
- Good implementation of Netflix
- Play To/ DLNA render
- 4oD and YouTube apps
- Blu-ray player
- No Windows Media Center Extender features
- Reduced video quality of HDMI input
- Can’t initiate DLNA playback from the Xbox
- Missing apps from BBC, Sky and ITV
- OneGuide is US only
- No local media storage