I switch on my Xbox One every day with my voice, and navigate to TV channels, Netflix, and even games by shouting at my TV. Microsoft's original Xbox One vision was a digital entertainment center at the heart of your living room, and I've been living that dream for nearly three years. Microsoft announced last year that it was planning to add TV DVR features to the Xbox One, and it immediately became clear the console was turning into the perfect cord-cutting set-top-box. In recent weeks, that cord-cutting dream doesn't seem so real anymore.
I live in the UK and it means I get a Freeview TV service on my Xbox One (with adapter) that includes HD versions of the most popular terrestrial TV channels all for the cost of our TV license (£145.50 / $194 a year). With a vast array of on-demand TV services from British broadcasters and services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, I have little reason to pay for cable or satellite TV providers like Sky, Virgin Media, or BT unless I really want to watch live sports. I can even get access to watch Arsenal fail to win the Premier League every year, at a price premium, thanks to Sky's Now TV app. With Plex, and many other entertainment apps, the Xbox One is almost perfect for cord cutters like me.
Being able to record TV was the last piece of the Xbox One puzzle for me personally, but Microsoft's announcement before E3 made it sound like the feature had been canceled. The software maker also focused solely on gaming and Windows 10 during its E3 press conference, sidelining any potential entertainment features. Rumors ahead of E3 had suggested Microsoft might launch two Xbox TV devices, but those turned out to be inaccurate. It's not clear if that was just bad rumoring, or Microsoft has delayed or canceled those TV-focused devices.
Microsoft continues to focus on gaming over entertainment
Elsewhere, Microsoft launched new Xbox apps for iOS and Android ahead of E3. They look exactly like the Windows 10 version of the Xbox app, but some of the key media features are missing. Microsoft has slowly been adding some of them back, like searching for movies or TV shows from the app. However, most of the useful SmartGlass features like being able to see how long is left on a Netflix show, or pausing directly from the Xbox app are still missing. It's this lack of attention to entertainment features, or increased shift to a gaming focus, that leaves me disappointed at the Xbox I thought could be my only set-top-box.
Microsoft is also continuing to step back from Kinect. While the new Xbox One S features an IR blaster to control your cable box, the Kinect port is gone. You'll need a special USB adapter to get the Kinect working with the Xbox One S. Just this week, Microsoft announced it's killing off its Xbox Fitness app that relied on the Kinect sensor. Kinect is a key part of Microsoft's original Xbox One vision, and the main way to pause or switch TV channels with just your voice. It hasn't always been reliable, and I was hoping the commands and recognition would improve over time.
Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be happening. While Cortana is heading to the Xbox One this summer, early previews have shown it's focused on more than just the basic media control that debuted with the console initially. I've spent some time testing Cortana on Xbox One, and it's a disaster in its current state. Pausing TV or entertainment now takes far too long, and Cortana now misses my instructions to switch TV channels regularly and presents web results snapped to the side instead. It's frustratingly bad, but hopefully Microsoft will fix most of the issues before its debut this summer. If not, I'll be switching back to using a remote and disconnecting my Kinect for good.
Xbox One DVR "on hold," Xbox apps on iOS and Android, no Xbox TV devices, Kinect's slow death, and Cortana's rocky arrival on Xbox One all combine to demonstrate Microsoft's increased focus on gaming. That's probably a good thing for most Xbox One owners, but I bought the console as I believed in Microsoft's dream of a digital hub in my living room. It feels like the good entertainment features are slowly getting stripped back. Hopefully Microsoft remembers there are still people like me who believed in the original Xbox One vision, and want more than just another games console.
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