[Chaos Manor Advisor Eric Pobirs installed a new XBox One for Jerry at Chaos Manor. Here is Eric’s report – Editor]
Picked an Xbox One with Kinect and the optional Media Controller remote for Jerry and set it up at Chaos Manor today. Some stuff worked fine as expected. Other stuff, especially in areas I’d not had the opportunity to examine previously at my own home, were a bit troublesome.
Getting the 1 year subscription code entered was easy enough but Xbox.com was taken aback when I tried to claim the current Xbox 360 Games With Gold title for Jerry’s account in hopes it would eventually gain backward compatibility support on the Xbox One. (This isn’t shipping yet for most Xbox One owners but if you’re in the testing program it’s pretty slick.) The site decided it was time for Jerry to prove his identity, possibly because the account had never been used in relation to an Xbox before and I hadn’t set up the machine yet. It wanted to send Jerry a code via email and receive it back as verification but the email never arrived at the designated address. After five hours there was no sign of it.
This is no tragedy as Jerry is unlikely to ever become a big player of the Gears of War series but it might have been something to have around if the grandkids are having a prolonged visit.
Initially I set up the Xbox to take advantage of the TV integration. Unlike most such devices, the Xbox One has an HDMI In port as well as the expected HDMI Out port. Combined with the 2nd generation Kinect this allows a variety of whizzy features where the Kinect responds to voice and gesture commands and controls the TV and cable/satellite box via IR. The setup went well enough, with the equipment identified and supported automagically. The problem came when the OneGuide, the grid display for the TV schedule, failed to include the essential channels 2 – 13. I suspected there were other versions of these same channels in the Time Warner lineup but I didn’t find them quickly and it is difficult to fight force of habit, especially for accessing the traditional major broadcasters. People expect channel 2 to be CBS if that is how their TV has worked for decades.
This is possibly the answer for the missing channels, in the third entry:
Until I can test the issue the Xbox will remain on the TV’s HDMI 2 input, which is a bit less convenient and loses the integration feature.
Out of the box, many of the standard hardware features of the Xbox One remain unsupported by software until the appropriate App is installed. For example, Blu-ray movie support. The Blu-ray app is just a few dozen megabytes out of the standard 500 GB hard drive (models with 1 TB drives are now shipping for a $50 price difference) and I suspect this is due to licensing costs. The primary firmware required an immediate 2 GB update to be downloaded and installed the first time the Xbox was booted. This may seem remarkable to someone who hasn’t looked closely at game consoles since the days of ROM cartridges but nowadays these are fairly sophisticated devices with both positive and negative aspects. The expectation is that the typical location will offer a broadband connection and the value of the console is affected if this isn’t available.
The optional Media Player app is bare bones but effective for giving the user access to locally stored video, audio, and image files. USB drives and DLNA network volumes are supported. (There is a separate client app available for the far more elaborate Plex server software which far beyond a simple listing of files.) Oddly, the Media Player will not look at an optical disc for files to play. This is a bit inconvenient if you’re setup to produce BD-R discs for sharing large items and I can only suspect it is a sop to Hollywood’s demands for piracy control. Despite this, the Media player supports the MKV wrapper format popular on torrent sites for its features and lack of patent encumbrances. The previous generation of Microsoft and Sony consoles ignored the existence of MKV but they would play files they did support off a burned disc. Since flash drives and NAS boxes, both with massive capacity, are now remarkably inexpensive, I’ll take this compromise over the previous generation’s compromise.
Although it works fine with my Netgear NAS at home, I was unable to test the Xbox One media player with the D-Link NAS at Chaos Manor. It turned out that at some point the NAS had forgotten much of its configuration and no longer appeared as an accessible volume on the network, not did it present as a DLNA volume. (The D-Link is a bit elderly for a consumer/SOHO NAS and doesn’t ever mention the term DLNA in its firmware or documentation. Instead, it has a UPnP AV server feature which is the same thing in all but name.) We were able to reset the unit and restore some of the configuration but getting it to do DLNA again meant it had to scan several hundred gigabytes of files, a task at which it is glacially slow. So we ran out of time while waiting and may have to do it again before the DLNA functionality can be configured. Since there is a need to reduce the number of PCs left running upstairs and jacking up the monthly power bill, a more substantial NAS box may be the solution to the household’s storage and backup needs, preferably one with at least four drive bays to support the greatest data integrity from the RAID.
The 500 GB internal drive can be easily filled if the user likes to keep their whole game library at the ready. Retail games ship on Blu-ray discs and can consume dozens of gigabytes. Adding additional capacity is as easy as plugging in a USB 3.0 drive and formatting. The system automatically decides where to put stuff and management is minimal.
The range of media apps is quite varied, with a great deal of free content available, along with many subscription driven options. In between there are regionally driven apps. If you get your service from one of the major cable TV MSOs, there is a good chance you can get an Xbox One app that give you access to a large library of on-demand material. I installed the Time Warner app, which also features live TV channels. This wouldn’t be of much use in the same room the cable box is found but could be of value on a household with good networking and a desire not to have a rented cable box in every bedroom. Unfortunately, the TWC app wouldn’t work. It just produced a blank screen. Pressing B or the logo button on the controller allowed one to escape but that is the best that can be said for it so far. I’ll try fiddling with it some more on my next visit. I’m sure if this were a widespread problem it would have produced more meaningful results when I attempted a search. Most likely the Chaos Manor Murphy Field at work.
Other apps I’ve installed include Netflix and Hulu, which each require their own subscription but Jerry had expressed interest. Since he is an Amazon Prime subscriber the Amazon video app should give him plenty to work with without incurring added expense. Amazon has been developing a lot of its own exclusive content to stake a claim on cord cutters’ entertainment budgets.
Another area that has been problematic thus far is also one of the leading features of the package. Having the Kinect accessory allows the Xbox One to be controlled by voice commands. This generally worked fine for me, though there is a bit of a learning curve due to the limited range of things the system understands. The upcoming ‘Windows 10’ update to the Xbox One will bring with it Cortana, so the sophistication should gain a fair bit. Meanwhile, there was a bigger problem: the Xbox couldn’t seem to understand Jerry. This may be a case of humans still having a great advantage, as everybody I’ve observed seems to understand him fine, although those are all people who’ve known him long before his two big medical issues, so maybe we have an unfair advantage. Even so, this was frustrating when sitting side by side it would ignore a command from Jerry and respond to the same command from me. Was it somehow trained to my voice from doing the setup? Maybe but I didn’t find any documentation suggesting it would become attuned to specific users.
This might help:
If these issues can be overcome, the Xbox One is a pretty powerful set of features. A bit on the pricey side if the gaming aspect doesn’t cater to your tastes but so many of the lower cost choices are painfully slow, due to CPU performance and limited RAM. The price range of the Xbox One puts it on par with an HTPC, many of which use a close relative of the AMD APU inside, but for someone looking for what the old Media Center team used to call a ‘ten foot UI’ the Xbox One is more of a turnkey solution.
A note from Jerry: I had an early Xbox but that was long age; I’m busy with Cthulhus and this has to wait a bit, but my early experiences with the XBOX have been quite good.
[Add your comments below; note that there may not be any response, but we welcome your thoughts – Editor]