Archives For Xbox

Digital Media Bytes

Dave Zatz —  April 5, 2012

A periodic roundup of relevant news… via our other outlets:

Comcast subscribers may soon get HBO Go on the Xbox
The fact that Comcast has blocked HBO Go on some devices has been a major point of contention in recent weeks. Reports say that Comcast and HBO are closing in on a deal to make the HBO Go app available to Xfinity subscribers on the Xbox and the operator may unlock access as early as this week.

Comcast plans the X3, its first all-IP HD set-top
In addition to building out the Xcalibur platform, Comcast has several other IP initiatives in the works. In February the operator introduced Streampix, an on-demand Internet-based service that’s been compared to an early version of Netflix’s (Nasdaq: NFLX) streaming service. Then there’s the Comcast Xfinity app on Xbox

Google reaches halfway mark with new fiber huts in Kansas and Missouri 
Time Warner has been dismissive of Google’s plans so far. A spokesperson told the Kansas City Star, “This [Google Fiber] is a product that doesn’t exist on a network that doesn’t exist.” Google, however, says it will begin offering service on the new fiber network later this year.

Rovi signs new wide-ranging licensing deal with Sony
Rovi announced that it has signed a technology and patent licensing agreement with Sony covering components of Rovi’s interactive program guide (IPG), which is currently in use by Panasonic, Toshiba, Charter Communications, and Suddenlink, among others.

Announced last fall, HBO GO is just about ready for its Xbox 360 closeup. I still find HBO GO to be one of the most compelling online streaming services, yet cord cutters will remain disappointed as access requires an old school HBO subscription via one’s satellite or cable provider. Further, Comcast and DirecTV customers may continue to be left out. Not to mention this particular implementation will also require a Xbox Live Gold membership ($40-$60/year). But if you happen to be one of the lucky ones, HBO GO offers every episode of every modern original series (True Blood, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, etc,) in addition to select movies on demand. Engadget reports the Xbox 360 HBO GO channel will launch April 1st, although Tech of the Hub has word the 720p content could show up even sooner.

Dave threw the gauntlet down back in 2006(!) when he suggested the Xbox was a Trojan Horse, designed to be activated in the future as a central device in the connected living room. Today, that reality has, in many ways, come to pass. According to Microsoft exec Russ Axelrod, more than 20 million Xbox homes are connected to Xbox accounts, and of the total time users spend on their Xbox consoles, 44% is dedicated to non-gaming activities. Analyst firm SNL Kagan points out that in addition to those 20 million Xbox-connected homes, there are also 30 million homes in North America connected to PlayStation Network accounts. That’s 50 million households with connected game consoles. Not a shabby number considering there are roughly 120 million households across the entire US.

Yet despite the growth of connected platforms, the world of distributed entertainment is still limited, at least where TV is concerned. The Xbox can be used as a set-top, but Microsoft has shed its ambitions to become virtual MSO thanks to the high cost of content licensing. And while cable industry veteran Jeff Baumgartner thinks that change is coming, there are still a lot of messy battles to be fought where streaming rights are concerned. The soldiers have emerged, but the war for the connected living room is far from over. It may be several years yet before the victors are decided.


Microsoft formally announced partners for its latest Xbox TV initiative today. In addition to Comcast and Verizon FiOS (two partners that were leaked last week), Xbox owners will be able to access content in varying degrees from Bravo, HBO Go and Syfy in the US, along with BBC in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, Rogers On Demand in Canada, Televisa in Mexico, ZDF in Germany, and MediaSet it Italy.

It’s all well and good to get excited about Microsoft TV, but there’s no major revolution here yet. In order to get Comcast or Verizon video on your Xbox, for example, you have to be an existing Comcast or Verizon subscriber as well. This is not over-the-top cable TV, freely available to anyone with an Xbox. It’s cable testing the waters of IP delivery.

Verizon has had systems in place for a while now that support delivery of linear television over IP. Although FiOS has always used IP for its on-demand content, we heard back in January that it could flip a switch for delivery of its broadcast content as well. Meanwhile, Comcast has steadily upgraded its own VOD architecture for future IP delivery, and is reportedly even testing linear broadcasting over IP on the MIT campus.

The Xbox experiment is a way for Verizon and Comcast (and others) to test out their new delivery systems. Limited adoption – built in by the inherent service limitations – will let them do a controlled introduction of new technology. They’ll stream a relatively small amount of video over IP, and be able to see how their networks hold up. If that goes well, they’ll push the boundaries a bit farther.

The experiment is a good one, and you’d better believe that every other cable operator will be watching closely. But it’s no revolution for consumers. Not yet. On the bright side, getting to IP delivery of video means cable providers will have a lot more flexibility. Once the networks systems are proven, they can start to play with business models. If the rumors of a la carte discussions are any indication, the timing is right.

Microsoft announced at a financial conference yesterday that it plans to offer live TV on the Xbox in time for the holiday season. It’s like deja vu all over again. It was in January of 2007 that Microsoft first made this promise, and the company has dangled the possible integration at every Consumer Electronics Show since.

Once again, the would-be TV provider isn’t naming any partners, but does say it will have “dozens or hundreds of additional video content suppliers,” and that it will bring this service to market through the network operator channel (i.e. your cable provider). This follows last year’s launch of Xbox-as-a-set-top for AT&T’s U-verse service, which includes an unfortunate $99 fee to cover the necessary hardware upgrade. It also comes on the heels of Jinni’s recent announcement that Microsoft is licensing its “semantic discovery technology for personalized, holistic discovery of video entertainment.” Perhaps this reference guide Jinni touted earlier in the month is the basis for Microsoft’s new Xbox TV interface?

We’ll wait and see what Microsoft actually brings to the table, but in the meantime, here’s a timeline of the company’s efforts to make the Xbox a Trojan horse in consumer living rooms. Note, this doesn’t take into account various other Microsoft TV attempts including the ill-fated Microsoft TV Foundation Edition program guide. Yeah, Microsoft’s been at this for a while.

There was a lot of hype leading up to Microsoft’s keynote at the E3 conference earlier this week, with huge speculation that the company would launch a new live TV service on the Xbox. The announcement itself, however, was a bit of a let-down, at least for those of us in the US. After years of trying to get into the TV game, Microsoft’s latest foray involves live TV as an Xbox app. Sounds great, except the service is only scheduled to launch in the US “by the end of 2012,” and no major broadcast partners have been announced yet. Given how long it took Microsoft to add the Xbox as a U-verse set-top option with the AT&T service, I’m not holding my breath for a speedy deployment.

From Engadget’s coverage of the keynote, it looks like Microsoft has already worked out its guide software and DVR menus for Xbox TV. Execs also announced a new YouTube channel on Xbox Live, and there are hints (see photo above) that Microsoft is making headway with ABC. ESPN content is already in place, so that’s perhaps not a surprising development.

Dave and I sat down with a Microsoft rep back at CES when rumors of an Xbox live TV offering in the US were already making the rounds. And Microsoft has had live BSkyB TV on the Xbox in the UK since 2009. (Thanks, Lawler) It’s certainly progress, but other players are now pursuing the same over-the-top holy grail. Verizon theorized about FiOS as an app back in January, Comcast has said it will bring live TV to iPads later this year, and Time Warner launched a live TV app for the iPad back in March, with Cablevision following suit in April. Microsoft could have been a front-runner years ago with its Xbox-as-trojan-horse. In 2011, it’s just another player at the web TV party.

The Case For Kinect?

Dave Zatz —  January 31, 2011

Well, that didn’t last long… After only about a month with my (second) PS3, I went ahead and unloaded the Sony platform to a work buddy. While I appreciate the physical hardware, if not the UI and online gaming, after playing through Uncharted 2 I just didn’t have much use for the console. I thought I’d put the Blu-ray player to use, but I’ve got several good looking online HD video sources/devices available to me. Yeah, not as high quality as BRD. But good enough as I no longer hoard physical media.

Despite plans to the contrary, I sold my previous Xbox 360 to Gamestop last month when they ran a generous trade-in offer. So I’m currently consoleless, for the first time in forever, and contemplating a new 360 purchase. After all, my Xbox Live subscription is good for about another year and I’d be effectively upgrading RRoD-prone hardware to more modern (and cabinet friendly) construction. The question is, do I pick up a Kinect bundle?

Kinect is Microsoft’s take on the motion control craze. However, it utilizes decidedly more sophisticated (camera) technology than what Nintendo and Sony offer. And supposedly it’s selling like hotcakes. Yet I’m not sure I’d maximize its potential. Isn’t the point of video gaming to sprawl out on the couch and minimize physical exertion? If I really wanted to move, I’d hit the gym or take it outdoors.

I solicited some community feedback on Twitter. Based on the responses, as we have no children in the house and given the current gaming lineup, it seems like I can pass on Kinect. For now. Disagree? Continue Reading…

I don’t know what you did for lunch today, but I swung by Gamestop for what could be the biggest video game release ever. Against my better judgement, I’d pre-ordered Call of Duty: Black Ops. And my suspicions were confirmed as in-store availability looked good. But that $5 deposit was greatly rewarded with a $20 Halo Reach trade-in bonus (on top of the listed $25) bringing my total outlay to $10.74. (I’m a monogamous gamer — at my advanced age, the neurons just can’t juggle multiple titles.)

I had time for two quick Xbox Live multiplayer rounds before returning to work… which was long enough to marvel at the visuals. Wow. And apparently I’m at a disadvantage by not having picked up Black Ops last night at midnight and taking the day off, as I was the only matchmaking level 1 n00b — all others were 12 and above.

For those still stuck in the office and without the game, here are some Call of Duty Black Ops review s to whet your appetite: