Friday, July 17, 2015

Xbox Watch TV!

So I wasn't sure I was even going to try this, but I was impressed by the Kinect so far and I had some extra time last night to fiddle around:
I plugged my cable box into the HDMI port on the Xbox One, and went through the full setup process.

I am ... undecided on whether to keep it this way, and I'll be looking for feedback from my wife (and to a lesser extent, my son) on how it makes things easier or harder.

The Pros:

  • Even more video stuff that can be done without changing the TV or Receiver input. (Not quite 100% there yet, but mostly because the Chromecast is so convenient for pushing youtube to the big screen).
  • The Kinect indeed does its magic to pass (a limited number of*) IR codes to the cable box without an IR blaster.
  • Voice commands (when they work*) are pretty living-in-the-future neat. It recognizes pretty much any channel by name.*
  • While watching On Demand video* (or, probably, if you have DVR functionality and are watching live tv, but we don't), the "playback control" commands (pause/play/etc) work too.
  • The OneGuide integration puts everything available to watch in one place. And there's even a "mini-guide" that can pop up during TV-watching.
  • There is no degradation to video or sound that I can see, even though it adds an extra "hop" in the chain for TV. I had read about some concerns about support for surround-sound, but the option was there (maybe it was a more-recent system update?) and I am satisfied there.
  • You can, of course, switch between watching TV and doing other Xbox stuff without necessarily even picking up a controller or remote.
  • If you need something that isn't covered by the Xbox interface, you are still able to control the cable box normally.
  • In theory, I could ditch the cable box entirely, use this functionality with a cheap Digital Converter Box just to get the basic channels, and use the FiOS App for the paid channels, and it's still somewhat integrated and saves us $10/month.
    • But then we lose On Demand functionality which we still kind of need for some channels' content because we don't have a DVR and would rather not do anything illegal.
      • But we could use the web and Chromecast, or Amazon Prime, for the "on-demand-esque" content that isn't accessible from some other app.
        • Don't you wish the IE browser on the Xbox supported Flash, or these streaming sites supported non-Flash? That would have been another solution
          • With all of this nesting back-and-forth, maybe I should move on to the Cons.
The Cons

  • Did I say "when they work" with the Voice Commands? Yeah. Xbox, I said "Watch BBC America", not "BET"!
  • The only cable-TV-related commands that are passed through the Xbox are channels by name; you can not specify a channel number, nor is there channel up/down functionality.
    • Lack of channel up/down kind of makes sense, since the Xbox is using IR and not CEC. It is completely blind to the current state of the cable box. But it would still be nice.
    • With a proper Universal Remote (like we do happen to have), you can still fake it with a physical remote and pass certain buttons through to the cable box. But you shouldn't have to do that! And in my specific case, I don't quite have enough Universal buttons left to do everything. Because....
  • ...You also don't have control over things like On Demand. You can use the actual cable remote (or the aforementioned Universal Remote) but this can get terribly confusing and almost defeats the purpose. Especially if you want to send the up/down arrow keys, or "Back", or "Menu", etc to the cable box to navigate menus, while sending the same keys to the Xbox is for entirely different functionality that you don't want to override.
    • And if you get things out of sync in an unexpected way (for example, accidentally leaving the cable box in a menu and then saying "Xbox Watch NBC"), the Xbox voice commands can end up putting your cable box in a funky state.
  • In order to do anything with the cable box, the Xbox needs to be fully 100% powered-on. This is not exactly happy for the electricity bill.
    • It would have been nice if the HDMI passthrough was actually a passthrough when the Xbox was off. But no.
  • Relatedly, if you really want the fully-integrated immersive experience without having to hit any special buttons, you really need to have your cable box turned 100% on while the Xbox is turned on all the time. Due to Kinect magic, you can pair their power-states (and this kind of thing works well so far in my experience) but you shouldn't have to.
  • This would all be much nicer and simpler if the Xbox could just use a damn CableCard! Or at least if the US could support DVB. Please?
I'm sure there's more, but that's a long enough rant to get us started.
Leave further questions in the comments, or come find me elsewhere!

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