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Saturday , 19 January 2019
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Xbox One TV and dashboard: what works and what doesn’t

As Microsoft announce support from LoveFilm and Eurosport, GameCentral gets a preview of what the non-gaming experience will be like in the UK.

When the Xbox One was first unveiled in May Microsoft were keener to talk about the new console’s multimedia features than they were its games. That focus, along with a lot of the other things that were discussed at the unveil, has now been shifted to a more gamer-friendly equilibrium.

But TV is still important to the Xbox One and Microsoft are keen to prove that’s true in the UK as well as the US, since one of the many complaints about the Xbox One’s TV features is that they were clearly focused solely on what and how Americans watch TV.

But Microsoft has today announced a large number of UK partners, with the following providers all planning to have content available somewhere between the console’s launch on November 22 and spring 2014:

Demand 5

All of these services will have their own app, so anyone can access them, although you will need to be an Xbox Live Gold subscriber to use them and the other multimedia features such as Skype, Game DVR, Upload Studio, Xbox SmartGlass, and Internet Explorer.

Speaking of which we recently attended a hands-off demo for the Xbox One’s other dashboard features, where it was made clear that you could only get live TV on your Xbox One via HDMI pass-through.

In other words you need to already have a set-top box, like a Sky box, whose HDMI output you can plug into the back of the Xbox One. That may seem fair enough, but as we pointed out to the Microsoft reps we don’t have that kind of set-up and, especially for those with just an aerial, you’ll got no live TV at all on the console.

Microsoft did talk vaguely about creating some sort of bridge, perhaps something similar to the aerial box used by the PlayStation 3′s PlayTV, but there are no imminent plans. Of course if you care about TV you’ll have a decent set-up box already and this won’t be an issue, but it seemed an important point to make clear.

[Update: Microsoft has just sent us some stats from ‘Mediabug Wave 3, Oct 2013, Decipher Media Research’ that suggest that only 44 per cent of UK homes have an HDMI enabled set-top-box. Although that rises to 52 per cent for homes that also have access to the Internet.]

The rest of the demo involved showing a lot of the previously described dashboard features, with Kinect recognising the two demonstrators who set in front of it instantly. The dashboard, based on the Windows 8 and Windows Phone ‘Metro’ interface, might not be very practical for PCs but it seems to work very well for a games console, allowing quick and easy customisation of the most prominent apps and displays.

However, the Kinect voice commands still don’t seem to work properly. And although we were in a deathly quiet demo room Kinect failed to pick up orders such as ‘Xbox goto TV’ something like the 25 per cent of the time. Which is a problem, because when we brought Microsoft up on this they admitted they were aiming for a 5 per cent fail rate at most.

The perfectly believable excuse was that that this was still a beta version of the interface and that new updates were coming in literally by the day. Still, we can only report what we saw, especially as there also seemed to be problems with Skype access.

It took so long to get a connection the demonstrators almost gave up, but when they did get it working (chatting to someone stuck in the basement) the video quality clearly wasn’t the 1080p resolution they’d been promising, but instead looked like a blurry YouTube clip.

This was blamed on the Xbox One using a wi-fi connection rather than broadband, the software being beta, and on it not being ‘Kinect-to-Kinect’, implying the guy downstairs was only using a PC webcam.

To placate us they mentioned a special deal for anyone signing up to Skype in the first six months, where they’d get 100 free minutes to use (Skype is free between Xbox Ones but costs money to call people on landlines or mobiles). They also promised that the four-person group mode would still be available, but didn’t demo it.

They did show the UK version of the One Guide though, but it was much simplified from the version demoed for America and not obviously more useful than the set-up box’s own guide. Although it did try to integrate app information along with live TV, with Microsoft adamant it would improve and become more useful over time.

Instead of the big headline features it was instead the quieter but more useful options which impressed us. The video uploader was very slow when ‘rendering’ a clip to upload but it definitely seemed to work, as the demo guy shouted out ‘Xbox record’ as he played a few minutes of Forza Motorsport 5.

We also very much liked the way that different apps could be viewed at the same time, via a sort of split screen effect. Different apps could be ‘snapped’ or ‘unsnapped’ to the primary one, allowing you to watch a movie and browse for trivia on Internet Explorer. Or play a game and chat to someone via Skype at the same time.

With these features promised from day one it will genuinely change the way you play games, and it opens up clear daylight between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in terms of features.The PlayStation 4 doesn’t support any TV features out of the box (and PlayTV is not compatible), although it will have downloadable video apps similar to the above.

In fact it’s interesting that multimedia is now one of the few areas where the approaches of the two consoles are radically different. At Gamescom the PlayStation 4′s big dashboard trick was watching someone playing a multiplayer game and then instantly jumping into join them, which is something the Xbox One doesn’t even attempt to do.

Which means it’s not a case of one being better or worse than the other, but of offering different features that will appeal to different types of people. Assuming it all works of course…

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