Xbox Video and Music on Windows suck. What are the alternatives?

Happy New Year, Tribespeople.

Ironically I’m starting the year here with a rant, but hopefully something good comes out of it, like getting some education on my Windows 8.x media consumption woes.

Xbox video and music in Windows Phone, Xbox 360, PC and tablet. I own all the devices – the fabled "3 screens" (or 4 since I have both mini and full-size tablets running Windows): Surface RT (traded), Surface 2, Dell Venue 8 Pro, Lumia 920, Xbox 360. Whatever content I rent or buy through the Xbox store is linked across all devices and I love the UI. Nice. But the nice stops there.

So in preparation for my trip I downloaded several GB of TV shows and movies to watch with the wife in our long flights to and from our holiday vacation destination. Here’s what I experienced:

1. The target device was a Surface 2 since it has epic battery life, beautiful full HD screen and a kickstand, so in theory perfect for watching content. I had to download the items several times. Bugs included downloads stuck at 99% and failing. Web searches show this is an old bug going back to 2012 that remains unsolved. I applied the assortment of potential solutions: resetting the Windows store running wsreset.exe (so no, don't get rid of the Dexktop just yet), re-installing the Video app, and refreshing the Windows installation. I spent days dealing with this bullshit, barely cutting it in time for my flight. How is your aunt or mom going to deal with this in their new Surface tablets they got as gifts (or worse yet, bought them themselves)? I have experienced this in 3 different Surface tablets and one W8.1 ARM device, so virtually every W8 device I’ve owned at one point or another.

2. I’ve been burned before during a 13-hour flight about putting downloaded content in a non-default location, even though I went through a careful process of adding removable storage to the Windows libraries, all for naught as the Xbox Video app could not resolve those changes. I had to test playback to make sure this didn’t happen again. W8.1 improved removable storage integration so it worked, at home at least.

3. I’m waiting for my plane at the gate, with no wi-fi (the lack of free working wi-fi in almost every airport in the US is disturbing). Playback doesn’t work. WHY? It needs to check DRM, later research shows. What the fuck is the point of downloading content to use offline, if it needs to connect to the Internet to play, huh? Offline means offline, n’est-ce-pas? Well, no, according to this most modern OS, even though it asked me "Would you like to download to play offline, Dear enduser?" to which I replied "Fuck yes Xbox Video, please download to play offline, thankyou for asking you amazing sumbitch". I misunderstood. You’re such a n00b sanshiro, didn’t you know that offline meant connected to the Internet to check that you own what you already bought? Are other platforms/ecosystems like this? I hope not!

4. So I hurried and bought a GoGoWhatever 1-day wi-fi pass as the planes were equipped with Internet (magic!). $14.99, but whatever. One leg of the trip worked, the other didn’t even though the airline said the specific flight had wi-fi, instead showing a message in the browser saying "Gogo in-flight is not available, either you’re flying under 10k feet, the airline turned it off, or your geographical location doesn’t allow it; too bad you already paid LOL". So buyer beware. This has nothing to do with Microsoft, but I had to share.

5. I researched and saw these playback issues being reported as far back as 2012 when Windows 8 went retail with no solution in line. Some claim "Windows RT cannot resolve DRM issues". Really? So Windows 8 (not RT) have none of these issues? Others recommended using DRM-removal tools which basically need to convert the files to a playable format. This is (a) time-consuming, (b) most DRM removal tools are not free, (c) most tools don’t support full HD conversion, and (d) there are legal implications. So NOPE, I’m not going that route if there are alternatives. All the while the dude sitting next to me happily binge-watched The Wire on his iPad. I drowned my sorrows in alcohol from little bottles.

6. I’m on the sand looking at this gorgeous beach. I take out my Lumia to fire some tunes to match the mood. I have a bunch of local music, I know it because I have previously downloaded them. I select "only show local music" (or something like that in the Settings menu). But the app still shows everything, the whole library. Sigh. I play a playlist, it gives me a bunch of error messages saying it cannot play them. I cannot determine what’s local and what’s stream-only. There are duplicate tracks, the result of synching that all it does is fuck things up. There are DRM issues. Sigh. Why can’t things… just work? My Symbian phones worked. My Walkman and Discman worked. I'm sure iThings work. Things are getting too complicated for their own good. And get off my lawn.

The lingering question is: How are regular consumers – the iPad/iPod/iPhone-wielding crowd-- going to deal with all this bullshit? I could not in good conscious recommend this to anybody I care for, except the most technically oriented, patient, and early adopters (which is basically nobody I know of except myself - and I highly doubt my know-how given my media woes).

So since Xbox video and Music are a fucking nightmare and don’t work, what are my video options for W8/WP8? Amazon? iTunes (shiver), what? For music, what are the options to keep track of my music library on W8/WP8? I’m as media consumption n00b, please educate me. Thx.