Last week marked a revolution in the living room: or so Microsoft wants you to believe. With the Xbox One we are summoned into an age of one platform entertainment systems. But, has Microsoft really set themselves up for this, or did they actually take a step back?


Microsoft says that part of their design was to make the Xbox One fit in with your entertainment system and feel at home. To read more on this background, you can read this article from Gizmodo. I think there is some merit to this thinking: but what "entertainment systems" does something this large feel at home in? Looking at my decent array of home entertainment equipment the only thing that really pairs in comparison to the Xbox One in size is early Generation seven consoles and my 8 Channel 2 Room audio receiver. Really though, I think if I was hard pressed, I could fit in my PS3 slim, wifi router, and modem in the size of the Xbox One.

Not only is there an issue with poor correlation in size and look from anthing you may have, there's the issue of what do we want the future to look like? Do we want our grandmothers looking at the Xbox One and thinking its a new fanfled way to finally watch all those Beta Max tapes they kept in the attic melting? Or do we want something sleek?

In a world where "entertainment hubs" now fit right under our LED bezel (Roku/Apple TV) or even completely concealed behind our TVs (Chromecast), does it make sense to throw down a hunk of VCR next to it? I'm looking at my bedroom setup (where I'd love to have an immersive entertainment experience) and see it very hard to imagine where I'd place my PS3 slim let alone something twice its size! Also, I don't know what kind of entertainment centers Microsoft planned to have their customers using, but many users are going to wall mounts with small equipment racks (or no racks) or tv stands with very short compartments.

The Future Is Coming

Microsoft touted Xbox One as the one box to rule the living room. They brag about being able to watch Netflix, Skype, browse the web, listen to music, and game all from the same device. That's great! But, I don't know about you, but my PS3 is still really good at watching Netflix, and it even will play music for me too. So they added Skype (something that was technically possible on last gen consoles).

And they toted being able to watch cable through your Xbox One. Well… It turns out a lot of people are getting rid of cable boxes (GASP!) in favor of content services such as Netflix or Hulu. In fact even more content providers are creating apps for iOS, Xbox, and Playstation (look at MLB, CBS, NHL Live, etc)

No One Wants All The Screens

One other point about the "center of the living" room mentality is a question that has to be raised: Do we really want to do all of this on one screen or device? Is our tv really the best way to surf the web? While a game loads will I really want to jump over to a two minute Skype call?

I know that personally, nothing aggrevates me more than controller based keyboard input. To alleviate this the Xbox One allows you to plug in a keyboard for faster input while browsing and such. But when I'm grabbing something on my living room coffee table, wouldn't it be just as easy to grab my tablet or phone? Something that is much more comfortable and lets me keep my TV set to whatever I was doing before. Do I want the awkard notion of having to not see most of the page because text (no matter what your vision level or TV size) is hard to read from the other side of the room. We have incredible devices sitting in our pockets and laps that allow us to do some of the things that are just hard to accomplish on a living room TV screen.

The One Box To Rule Them All

The Xbox One is the only thing you'll need to run your entire living room, just plug this one box in and you won't need anthing else… Well… Unless you want internet which is required for the Xbox One to work: you'll need a modem for that… And you'll probably want to connect more than one device to your network and probably want to do so over wifi: go ahead and add in a router. Oh, you want to say "Xbox TV!" at the top of your lungs: grab a cable box from Comcast and make sure it's within sight of the Kinect. But, wait you still want to play last gen games: I've run out of input ports so go back to plugging your old consoles in to your TV like a loser.

But really this is the state of things! And you know a secret, it's not the hardware design teams fault! This was a marketing ploy. In fact, I'd go as far as calling this a bold faced lie!

Synergy Now

To get into the nitty gritty of how Xbox One accomplishes handling a second source of input is quite an interesting tale. If you want to plug in your cable box, Apple TV, or whatever may come down the line you just put it in the HDMI input of the Xbox One and set up what you want the input to be called, and run through a few settings. Microsoft totes this as HDMI Passthrough, but, there should be a tiny bit of fine-print next to this. If you are familiar with HDMI Passthrough from home theater Soundbars or receivers you will be thoroughly disappointed. With audio devices (or some TVs), the HDMI Passthrough means that the receiver grabs the data that is relevant to its operation and passes the signal through uninterrupted to the HDMI output. Occasionally menus or image processing can be enabled and an altered signal can be output. However, on the Xbox One, this rescaling and image processing is always going on and is delegated as a background task for the system meaning considerable latency is going to be added. This probably means nothing to the person watching Downton Abbey from PBS, but try to hook up your old console or run Air Play monitoring as a second screen for your laptop and you will notice it.

Another trick that Microsoft threw into their box was the ability to control other devices with Xbox voice commands. This of course is shown off by channel navigation for cable boxes. However, this goes a bit back to the stone age of technology in its execution. The brains behind the operation is a IR emitter located in the Kinect sensor, when you tell Xbox to change the channel, it just looks up what that remote code is and sends a signal just like you pushed the necessary buttons on your remote. It's cool stuff, but it's a shame that Microsoft didn't choose to use the IR channel of HDMI or the Control over HDMI protocol. Granted support for both of these are really hit or miss. But it does mean that you have to have your cable box's IR receiver within view of your Kinect.

A Bold March to the Future

Xbox One has done a lot of hard work to bring some more content under one control interface and has done a respectable job of the task. But, in bringing the future to us today, they may have hurt their own position and stymied growth of a single system home theater. In fact, I think that if anything Microsoft has set themselves up for this generation to be the box that "really needed a bunch of other things to work the way it was advertised".

I think the idea is that they will slowly be able to phase out the HDMI input from cable and second devices (Roku, Apple TV, Google TV boxes). But, I think that they will more likely be completely stuck to the decision. Let's assume you would want to add cable TV functionality to Xbox One. Instead of including an HDMI input they could have instead made the Xbox One a Gigabit Ethernet powered TV decoder for services like ATT U-Verse, forcing the providers hands into supporting the device. However, now Comcast can look at that HDMI port and IR blaster and say "Nope, I'm happy renting you these old Motorola DVRs for $20 a month." Likewise, someone like Google could say "we were going to write Chrome for Xbox, but instead we'll just tell people to get a Chromecast and plug it in to the HDMI port."

It is a fine line to toe when jumping to a new generation, and there are some things that I think Xbox will be praised for for a while, but will find to hurt in the long run. All this being said, the new console generation is here. And, it is so good that we get caught in the little details and pick at what could have been better.

What do you think? Is the Xbox One really going to be "The One Box To Rule Them All" or will it sit in the same spot as your Xbox 360, both in your TV stand and your daily grind?