Xbox One Review: Unifying Your Living Room Experience

Watching TV Through The Xbox One

It's Not Just a Gaming Console

Even though the Xbox brand is completely tied to Microsoft and gaming, we've heard it said that Xbox One is a digital hub. Apart from the chaotic world of smartphones and tablets, no other device tries so hard to be so many things at once.

Microsoft took heavy criticism from the hardcore gaming community when it unveiled Xbox One because a majority of its new features weren't explicitly gaming-related. That's not to say the console's biggest selling point isn't its role as a next-generation gaming platform. But there's so much more to Xbox One than just games. This is where Microsoft's strategy differs from Sony's, since the PS4 is a more purpose-built gaming machine.

At some point, Microsoft took a look at how Xbox 360 owners were using their consoles and determined that gaming was just one puzzle piece. In fact, almost two years ago, Xbox marketing and strategy head Yusuf Mehdi revealed that Xbox 360 owners were spending more than half of their time on Xbox Live watching videos and listening to music. Surely, Netflix and Hulu apps on the console make a huge difference, but those usage stats were what influenced the Xbox One's direction.

The Xbox One will launch with the following apps available:

·         Netflix
·         NFL
·         ESPN
·         Amazon Instant Video
·         Machinima
·         Hulu Plus
·         FOX NOW
·         FXNOW
·         Vudu
·         Crackle
·         Redbox Instant by Verizon
·         TED
·         Xbox Video
·         Xbox Music
·         SkyDrive

Xbox, Watch TV

There's an HDMI input in the back of the Xbox One specifically included to take a signal from a digital cable box. Without switching inputs, you can hit the home screen's TV tile, or say "Xbox, watch TV," and the console switches over to a full-screen feed from the cable box.

You can continue to use that appliance's remote control and reference the channel guide from your cable provider. But for U.S. users, Microsoft also has its own TV guide app called OneGuide that updates once you give it information about your location and cable service.

One neat (but less advertised feature) is the IR blaster built into Kinect that can control your TV set. Programmed with the right remote code, voice commands like "Xbox, volume up" or "Xbox, mute" do what you'd expect them to. With OneGuide properly configured, you can even use commands like "Xbox, watch HBO" and jump straight to that channel.

Even for users who aren't in the U.S., the TV pass-through feature still works. I tested my review unit on Rogers cable. There is no built-in TV guide for the Canadian market (it's supposedly in-progress), but swapping between content sources on the Xbox One was easy.

With the TV feed up and active, the Xbox One continues working in the background. It'll still respond to voice commands, and I found that the best application of this awareness was switching between live TV and a game by simply telling Kinect to make it so.

For the roughly all of us who hate sitting through commercials, simply say "Xbox, go to Dead Rising 3," or "Xbox, go to Netflix," (or any other app name), spend a few minutes there, and then say "Xbox, watch TV," to get back to your program. You don't even need to pause your game before switching back; it will automatically suspend. This also works very well for keeping an eye on sports scores without sitting through the full game. Or, using a feature called Snap, you can both watch/play a game on one side of the screen with the TV feed running in a small window off to the right.

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • lostgamer_03
    Great review, really made reflect over what a gaming machine should be able to do nowadays. A gaming machine isn't just a gaming machine anymore and the Xbox One, even though it might not be as powerful as PS4, is a really attractive product in my perspective.
  • Ceee9
    any Am%$^$N want to trash this?
  • Nahkman
    Reinventing the TV experience only applies to the Americas as the rest of the world does not really care much about ESPN, and also a lot of the functionality is NA only, there was also a rumor that kinect voice commands do not work in a lot of european countries.
  • Maziar
    Great review
    At the time being,IMO PS4 is a better gaming machine;whereas,X1 is a better entertainment system.
    PS4 has a more powerful GPU so it should perform better in games and is $100 cheaper too;whereas,X1 tries to do more than just gaming and costs more.
    For me,PS4 is a better machine because I only tend to play games on a console but X1 is also a great machine
  • de5_Roy
    10 pages and.. nothing about xbone(R)'s gaming capability or gaming experience. the review was done well, but seems restricted to media capabilities. the device seems versatile.
    some of the ps4 reviews i read had info on gaming as well as media/entertainment. i mean info like how the games look and feel to a player, resolution and user perception, joystick (and other input devices) performance in gaming etc.
  • daglesj
    As a 42 year old that back in 2006 played a lot of games on my console but now mainly uses it for media and streaming with a bit of gaming on the side (I'm sure I'm not the only one) the Xbox One is a more compelling unit than the PS4.

    I'm pretty sure MS went over the usage stats of the 360 and found that more and more people were using the media/TV/movie aspects. After all thats where the money is.

    MS could sell half as many Xbox Ones as Sony but it will still be making far more per console in subscriptions and services. The money going forward isn't in games.

    However, I don't think this generation will be as long lived as the 360/PS4. I see One.5 or PS4.5 models or total replacement within 5 years.
  • zzzaac
    Unfortunately all these nifty things are half working or not working at all for countries other than US of A

    I might be getting both, but to be honest I might not get any, as I've become more of a PC gamer
  • daglesj
  • daglesj
  • cats_Paw
    I think im getting old, becouse when i read this i think that the Xbox one is basicly a low end PC with limited usability...