The upcoming Metro update to Microsoft’s Xbox, shipping tonight and arriving on your console some time this week, pushes Microsoft’s gaming product away from the traditional run-and-gun of gaming consoles and into a new realm: that of the home media center.
While the Xbox existed as a media center before, allowing you to download video and music content and stream content from your home computers, this new update makes it easier to find disparate pieces of content, whether its from Microsoft’s own video/music store or another source or directly from the Internet through YouTube and various partner services. The update also allows Windows Phone users to control the Xbox remotely, adding items to the queue and looking up content to send to the TV while other content is playing. In short, this update isn’t about the games, it’s about content.
On the surface, the Metro update looks much like Windows 8. Tiles abound, with various UI elements mimicking the new Windows UI almost wholesale. Every new app is Kinect-enabled, allowing you to swipe through tiles with your hands or call up apps with your voice. The most prominent change is the Bing search screen, a service that will bring you web content as well as allow you to search the entire Xbox and Microsoft stores for potential matches. For example, when you search for “X-Men” you don’t get the Wikipedia entry, you get all of the movies, based on availability for download or streaming.
The focus in this update is on partners. These include UFC, HBO Go, and a number of other content providers as well as a 25-channel HD line up from Verizon FiOS and another selection of channels from Comcast. Keep in mind that there is no DVR function yet and no real scheduling system, but that’s clearly down the line.
Most important in this move is Microsofts tacit admittance that they are gunning for the living room. By adding Comcast and FiOS, for example, the Xbox becomes less a gaming console than a way for junior to watch TV at college or the Xbox to become the bedroom media player.
Google and Microsoft are clearly in a cold war for the couch. While many have paid lip service to the effort to “colonize the set-top,” this new Xbox update is a clear effort to change the way people look at the Xbox and could be the first step in a new, more powerful Xbox with better DVR and media browsing experiences built-in. All of the big players have TV devices – Google TV, Apple TV, and now Xbox. Who will win – or whether there is a need for a clear winner – is anyone’s guess.