Microsoft unveiled a new entertainment center called the Xbox One yesterday. As expected, it's crammed with all sorts of Jetsons-age technology.
For example: It can run multiple apps at once on a split screen, allowing you to watch a movie while Skyping with friends. Voice sensors ostensibly allow you to bark commands like, "Xbox, go to ESPN!" Its unrivaled motion-sensing Kinect comes standard, allowing you to navigate through entertainment menus with a Jedi-like wave of your hand. The system is even said to play video games.
It's so amazing, in fact, that the Xbox One "effectively creates what might be called the first genuinely 'smart' television," says Nathaniel Mott at PandoDaily.
That should sound familiar. Google has been trying to do the same with its Voice Search and Google Now services, which react when you say "Okay, Glass," or "Okay, Google," and Apple is doing something similar with its virtual assistant, Siri. Leap Motion recently raised $30 million to bring its gesture-based technology to desktop computers and, eventually, mobile devices. A number of startups are attempting to bring such controls to televisions, and both Google and Apple are either working on or rumored to be working on their own living room products. [PandoDaily]
But Microsoft appears to have beaten them to the punch. The Xbox One may just be the all-in-one media center we've all been waiting for. For the first time, TV will be a fully integrated, seamless experience. Gizmodo's Kyle Wagner offers high praise: "This is what we were hoping Microsoft would show us."
Just one tiny problem, says Nilay Patel at The Verge: "The demos weren't real." Rather, the Xbox One's TV integration showcased by Microsoft "is the same familiar nightmare we've known for nearly 20 years now."
Instead of actually integrating with your TV service, the One sits on top of it: You plug your cable box's HDMI cable into the Xbox, which overlays the signal with its own interface. If you're lucky enough to own a newer cable box, you'll get to change channels directly through the HDMI connection, but most people will find themselves using the One's included IR blaster to control their cable or satellite boxes — a failure-prone one-way communication system that stubbornly refuses to die.
If this sounds familiar to you, it's because it's exactly the same way Google's flailing Google TV platform works... We've been overlaying fancy interfaces on top of cable signals and praying for IR blasters to adequately control the boxes for years now, and it's never worked — the content and information on your cable box is too valuable to relegate it to second place, and jumping back and forth between interfaces is irritating and stupid. [The Verge]
Furthermore, the system's features will only work with live television, since there's no way for the One to know what you've recorded on DVR. Unfortunately, that means users will have to navigate through clumsy onscreen menus with their old remote control. In other words, says Peter Smith at IT World, the One will be "mostly of use for channel surfing, if anyone still does that."
"The Xbox One won't free you from your cable box," says The Verge's Patel — "it'll stay firmly chained to it."