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Cable Technology Feature Article

May 22, 2013

Xbox One Forges Awkward Cable Alliance

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

Microsoft (News - Alert) has unveiled the Xbox One gaming and entertainment system with its aim to become the all-in-one, go-to living room device, offering a portal for the user entertainment experience. To that end, it includes a deeper integration with television.

But while its name is a nod to “Input One”—i.e. the port by which a set-top, console or other device controls the television set—the reality is that its approach is far from threatening to the cable, satellite and IPTV (News - Alert) hegemony. Instead it offers an awkward hybrid pay-TV/over-the-top (OTT) approach hinging on an alliance with the traditional TV guys.

This relationship centers on a new functionality for the platform: The ability to navigate and watch live subscription TV from a cable MSO, telco or satellite company. Eschewing the TV Everywhere approach (a la AT&T’s (News - Alert) U-verse app for Xbox), the One offers live TV as a function of hardware and the wonder of HDMI ports. Users can simply plug in the cable set-top box (STB) into the Xbox, and then the Xbox into the TV.

Details as to how the live programming will actually be cleared for takeoff on the console are thus far sketchy—the software giant said only that “it’s committed to bringing live TV through various solutions to all the markets where Xbox One will be available.”

However—and it’s a big “however”—Xbox One’s access to subscription content starts and stops with live TV. Access to the DVR or any video-on-demand features will require a user to plug the cable set-top back into the TV. That makes the console more of an Xbox Half, or Xbox Three-Quarters. And the reality is that Microsoft has clearly ceded the battle for the living room to the pay-TV giants, for now.

So, while Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft, is talking up "Our unique, modern architecture brings simplicity to the living room and, for the first time ever, the ability to instantly switch across your games and entertainment,” it is not so much the content aggregation features that matter, but rather the middleware.

Microsoft has included plenty of customer experience perks, including voice recognition. If one says "Xbox One,” it launches a personalized Xbox One Home screen, allowing consumers to discover what’s popular on TV, what friends are watching and what’s trending within the Xbox community. And, the One Guide search and discovery option lets users find their favorite entertainment with the sound of one’s voice, presented in a tailored program guide.

“The more you interact with Xbox One, the more it gets to know you and learns what you like,” the company said.

There’s also a “Snap” functionality that enables multitasking, like jumping into a multiplayer battle while watching a movie, talking with friends on Skype (News - Alert) while watching live TV, or tracking a fantasy team on TV while watching a game. All of this provides functionality that far, far outstrips anything that the pay-TV companies can provide today.

Edited by Ashley Caputo

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