The Xbox One has experienced a turbulent couple years to say the least. The big promise from our friends in Redmond was that the Xbox One would be a true multi-media hub, not just a game console. In many ways, this approach led Microsoft to be criticized by many in the gaming industry for taking their eyes off the ball – or trying to be everything to everyone, leaving room for Sony to swoop in and woo the gaming crowd. The old saying goes: If you’re everything to everyone, then you’re nothing to no one.
But dare I say, I think the Xbox One is starting to come into its own. I’m starting to really understand the approach Microsoft was promoting way back in 2013. I think the Xbox One truly is the best machine for any would-be cord cutter out there. I personally use it as my multimedia hub and couldn’t be happier.
I’m a casual gamer. I tear it up on The Crucible in Destiny from time to time (damn you Xur, damn you to hell!). But the majority of my use of my Xbox One is as a multimedia hub.
How Xbox One helps me in cord cutting
Any decent system that aims to ditch cable needs a rock solid streaming device of some kind. I’ve used several, including the WDTV Live, Xbox 360, Roku and, of course the Swiss Army knife of the streaming world, the Chromecast. But nothing has come close to the Xbox One in terms of speed, connection quality and interface.
I live in an apartment that doesn’t make using wired connections very simple or asthetically pleasing. But streaming 1080p movies with surround sound isn’t exactly the easiest on the home network. But low and behold, when I connected the Xbox One to my A/C router, boom! It worked. Beautifully. No hiccups. No artifacting. These were all things I dealt with when using the other devices above. I stream content from Plex at ridiculously high bitrates with full DTS Master HD sound with no problem.
The Xbox One is a very capable machine when it comes to decoding video files. MKV files are decoded natively and support for Dolby Digital and DTS is a breeze. But one of the really great things about the audio processing on the Xbox One is how it actually transcodes the audio to either Dolby Digital or DTS no matter what the source material is. I have a wireless headset that can decode Dolby Digital, so the fact that the Xbox One does the heavy lifting and outputs a sound format that my headphones are compatible with is real bonus. In comparison, the WDTV Live didn’t handle movies with DTS soundtracks very well and I would find myself having to stumble around through the menu to switch between audio settings.
Let’s be honest, some of the interfaces that come with video streaming devices are god awful. I love my WDTV Live, but I’m the first one to admit that it’s interface looks like cat barf on a hot day. It lags, freezes and just generally is not a great experience. Xbox One is the opposite. The interface works. It gets out of the way and allows me to sit down on the couch and be watching something ten seconds later.
Like I said before, I use Plex as my media centre religiously. Seriously, if you aren’t using Plex I don’t know what’s wrong with you (no offence to the guys over at Kodi). The apps I use the most for consuming media:
- NHL Gamecenter (for my Ottawa Senators fix)
The modern design on each of these apps is great, but I wasn’t super impressed with the music offerings on Xbox One. But let me fill you in on a secret…
My secret, HDMI passthrough
HDMI passthrough sounds like the most boring thing ever. But it’s actually one of the more useful pieces of technology on the Xbox One. Take any HDMI device, plug it into the HDMI input on the back of the Xbox One. Now you can access that device from the Xbox One interface via the TV app.
I have my Chromecast plugged into one of those HMDI ports which solves the Xbox One’s music app problem. Now I can add these apps to my list since I can access them via Chromecast:
- Google Play Music
- PocketCasts (for my money the best single podcast app that exists)
If you’re serious about movies and having your media sit in another room, consider getting a Mac Mini. I’m not a Mac fanboy or anything like that, but the Mac Mini does an amazing job with transcoding video on the fly for streaming via Plex to my Xbox One.
Get a TV tuner. I haven’t done this yet, but Microsoft just released a digital tuner for the Xbox One that you plug your over-the-air HDTV antenna into so you can tune into local broadcasts. See my post about HDTV via antenna here. Apparently its works really well and Microsoft has promised to bring full DVR functionality to the Xbox One soon.
Get a universal remote. I have a Logitech Harmony Smart Control remote that is perfect. It is simple, durable and talks to the Xbox One flawlessly. And the battery on the thing lasts three years! I also have a home theatre setup, so it really simplifies the whole experience of controller my TV, receiver, Xbox One.
The future is looking bright
The Xbox One might have stumbled out of the gate a bit. But honestly, I think it’s really growing into the machine it always wanted to be. And cord cutters like myself are better off for it. So if you were on the fence about whether the Xbox One is for you, give it a serious shot if you intend on cutting the cord anytime soon.
There is a new 1TB storage version of the Xbox One which looks pretty awesome. In Canada it’s going for$449 right now with the Halo Master Chief Collection.