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MICROSOFT HAS JUST SCREWED OVER SOME OF ITS CUSTOMERS!

I’ve had a rough draft of a review for the Xbox One’s digital tuner sitting in my drafts folder for over a year now.  I just never got around to finishing the article, and at a certain point it seemed logical to just wait and review both the tuner and the DVR when the promised DVR features are enabled in 2016 (presumably after E3 next week.)  Well today it was announced that Microsoft is abandoning their plans for the XBOX  ONE to have a DVR.  And I am pretty frickin’ angry at them over it.

For fans of Windows Media Center, things have been a bit grim for a while.  WMC has been ignored, become buggy, and finally the word came down from Redmond that Windows Media Center would be no more.  Regular readers also know that I was TERRIBLY DISSAPOINTED by the multimedia features of the Xbox One when it came out in 2013.  Of course, that assumes that this site has anything resembling a ‘regular reader’.

For a while, it looked like Microsoft had a few plans that will restore to the Xbox One some of the features of the Xbox360 when used with Media Center.  Streaming my music library (after it has been uploaded to OneDrive) and supposedly supporting FLAC after Windows 10’s release looked like promising improvements – but never lived up to their potential in my own testing .  Dolby Digital has been added to Blu-Ray playback and now there is the ability to watch live television – so gee-whiz the XB1 finally does the job of $65 blu-ray player and a $15 HDTV antenna.  Not bad for my initial $499 investment on day one.  Then in 2015 Microsoft promised us that the Xbox One will get DVR functionality within the next year.  Even a die hard WMC fan such as myself would have had to admit that having DVR right on the console would have been a big plus over the old server-client design that was used with WMC and the Xbox360.

As soon as the promised DVR was announced I went out and purchased the TV Tuner.  It is a usb tuner from Hauppauge that retails for roughly $60.  (Yes, it was stupid of me to buy something in anticipation of a future functionality.  I know – but I was excited.)

Gee - it's been a while since we had live TV...is Lassie still on the air?

Gee – it’s been a while since we had live TV…is Lassie still on the air?

Nonetheless, I picked one up and decided to give it a test run.  My enthusiasm for the tuner stemmed from the promise that if the XB1 added DVR, then it would become the only streaming device that can do live TV, Amazon Prime, HBO, HULU and Netflix.  (For a meager $300 more than it’s closest rivals – the Apple TV and the Roku.)  Fortunately, I didn’t spend the extra $99 for another external hard drive which Microsoft specified would be necessary to enable the DVR features.

The tuner sets up easily and does deliver a good live picture.  I’ve used it twice, to watch the Superbowl.  Other than that – without a DVR –  it is a paperweight.

I have been a Microsoft fanboy for years, but this may be the last straw for me.  The Xbox One is a descent gaming machine, but is only as good for home theater use as a $40 Roku streaming stick.  Quite frankly, I’m not even super impressed with the games anymore and have been spending more time on Steam than Xbox Live.  I think that a Steam Link may be in my future and Microsoft will have to work pretty damn hard to get my loyalty back.

Microsoft – the hardware is there, the tuner is there, the OTA programming guides are there – why won’t you finish the job??  This was a promised feature and some of us spent money on the tuner.  Personally, I feel they ought to initiate a refund program to allow people to get some kind of credit for their old tuners (or their new paperweights – either way you want to look at it).

So in the final analysis – the Xbox One digital tuner is a DON’T BUY item.  Without the DVR features, it is no better than a cheap HDTV antenna.

 

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After reading that Xbox Music had added a cloud based music locker service using OneDrive I decided to give it a quick test.

Due to my frustrations with the Xbox One, the loss (or at least the continued depreciation of…) Windows Media Center, I have switched over my music collection to work with Apple TV (and subsequently iOS on our new iPhones).

I have to say that our music experience at home has been pretty good after this shift.  (The Remote App works great and if I am willing to listen to non-cd quality I can stream music directly from iCloud.  The sound quality is noticeably better when streaming in loss-less directly from a PC running iTunes.)

Two years ago I ripped all of our CDs to loss-less FLAC files using DB Poweramp.  From there I convert the FLAC files to either WMA Loss-less (when using XBOX/WMP) – or more recently AAC Loss-less.  Some of our music is 24-bit purchased from HDTracks.  The Apple TV downgrades HD (24-bit) music to 16-bit (CD Quality) automatically.  My great hope for the XBOX One had been that it is capable of 24-bit playback via HDMI.

So here is what you actually read the article for.  I test uploaded a 24-bit AAC Loss-less file (Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories – not that it matters…) and attempted to play it back with both the Windows 8.1 Xbox Music App and the Xbox Music browser player.  Both gave me an error message stating that the music was not in a format that could be played back.  The few specs from Microsoft that are on the Xbox Music / OneDrive website do state that AAC is supported AND that WMA Loss-less is supported.  It does not make the claim that AAC Loss-less is supported.  My small test seems to confirm that AAC Loss-less is not supported.

In my case this means converting my FLAC files to WMA Loss-less and then uploading them via OneDrive, if I want to use this service.  If I knew that 24-bit audio was supported, it might be worth it.

That is, except for OneDrive’s major defect.

A while back I decided to backup all of our pictures and music to the cloud.  Since I have an Office365 Subscription which comes with unlimited OneDrive storage – I decided to use OneDrive.  It took a WEEK to upload our photo collection.  (When uploading documents in a complex folder schema it went totally berserk – creating unreadable duplicates and  nearly destroying my documents archive.)

Out of frustration I decided to try DropBox for cloud storage.  It uploaded the same photo collection in 12 hours.  My test upload of a single album to OneDrive today was also VERY slow.  If Microsoft truly wants us to move our digital lives to OneDrive, they are going to have to fix their upload problem.

FLAC support would be super nice too.  *AHEM*

With the death of my beloved Windows Media center I have been considering alternatives such as Plex and XBMC.  XBMC is by far the most versatile and full featured media center software made today.  For a while I had been seriously considering swapping over to XBMC (hell, and if they could get Civilization V to run on Linux…I’d ditch Microsoft all together and go open source).

However Windows Media Center has one distinct advantage over XBMC, and it is this – it can record TV shows that contain Copy Control DRM.  TV/Cable broadcasts are tagged as Copy Freely or Copy Once.  It is largely up to the cable provider how their content is tagged, and if they wanted to sow havoc with an XBMC/cablecard setup then they could simply tag all of their content as Copy Once.

Microsoft has paid the fees to CableLabs which allow it to use the CopyOnce content.  Premium channels like HBO are exclusively CopyOnce content.

This is really unfortunate (again, a first world problem) as XBMC has 24-bit FLAC support, remote apps for tablets and phones, and runs on anything more powerful than a toaster.

*SIGH*

Who knows?  Maybe these guys will be successful with their petition drive to get Microsoft to release a WMC app for the XBOX ONE.

http://xboxvideo.uservoice.com/forums/225596-xbox-video-suggestion-box

protest

I’m sure this is what the reaction to my blog entry will look like. “And the masses rose up in revolt demanding GIVE US A MEDIA CENTER APP!”

Just a thought here…I get a good amount of traffic on this site looking for things to do with Windows Media Center and the Xbox One.

A WMC app would be pretty easy to develop for the XBONE since it is simply a remote desktop connection (and the XBONE runs Windows 8) – heck my Android Phone now has an official Microsoft Remote Desktop app.

If you are one of the many WMC users who would like to see an app developed for the XBONE then please take a second and send Microsoft an email:

https://support.microsoft.com/contactus/emailcontact.aspx?scid=sw;en;1539

It can’t hurt to try, right?

Or you can just participate in a ridiculously unscientific poll:

Here are a few tips on how to get Windows Media Center to work with the XBOX ONE.  It is well documented that you can use the HDMI pass-through to display a 360 or even a PS4.  It is the same trick that allows a cable box to pass through it’s picture.

First, set your XBOX 360 to boot to Media Center when it starts.

Inside the settings app on the XBONE go to “TV & One Guide”.

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Then choose “Devices”

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Then you will be able to choose devices from a list or to type in the manufacturer followed by model number.  In this case I used Microsoft Xbox 360.  I also checked to see if there was an entry for Ceton‘s Echo, there is not.  There is an option to type in Media Center and use remote commands for a media center remote.

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The Kinect 2 will then be able to use it’s IR blaster to turn on and off the XBOX 360 and hence Media Center.  However, in my experience it does not control the 360/WMC menus.  I had zero luck with changing channels without the remote for the 360 as well.  According to Microsoft even under the most ideal conditions (a cable box) the XBONE can only change channels, volume, and turn the device on and off.  It cannot manage recordings or access on-demand content.

I was pleasantly surprised when I said “XBOX Volume Down” and my Onkyo receiver dropped the volume three notches.

Much of the control issues could be overcome with some creative programming of a universal remoteLogitech Harmony remotes can be programmed to control the Xbox 360 and the XBONE.  I did not take this final step – hence the word “Hypothetical” in this article’s title.

If you own both devices, have room in your rack, and a good universal remote this might work for you.

Here are some images of Media Center running through the XBONE’s HDMI pass-through.

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Windows Media Center looks right at “Home” here.

I set this up temporarily due to the fact that I do not have room in my rack for both the 360 and the XBONE.  Silly me…I assumed the next XBOX would do more than it’s predecessor did.

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Want to drive Forza 5 while listening to Metallica?….this is what it would take.

Of course this seems a bit absurd to run essentially two computers just to watch TV – especially from a power consumption point of view.

XBONEI was one of the few gamers who was actually excited to hear that Microsoft would be focusing on entertainment with their new console – the XBOX One.  Like many XBOX360 owners I both game and watch TV on my 360…but let’s face it there is a lot more time in a working guy’s week for TV than gaming.

I knew my beloved Media Center was dead, and was preparing to deal with the separation.  What I didn’t know is that Microsoft was thinking of killing the usefulness of our local home networks as well. 

I loved my 360 and my feelings for Windows Media Center are well documented. (In a fit of faith in Microsoft I traded in one of my 360s last weekend to make room on the shelf for the new arrival.)

*head slap*

The XBOX One has NO utility for searching across your home network to find music, photos, or videos stored on a home Windows 8 PC.  You have to walk over to to the PC, select the file and choose “PlayTo“….then walk back across the house to see the content.

Dear Microsoft:  This kind of defeats the entire purpose of having a client device, now doesn’t it?

This is not only the death of Windows Media Center, it is the death of the home server/client philosophy that Microsoft has promoted since XP!

One guy (Kudos to him for figuring out how to do this…) has found a workaround that requires you to pass your home PC content through your phone.  EXCUSE ME MICROSOFT?!?  The XBONE has an 8-core processor, 8 gigs of ram and I’m supposed to pass video through my Android phone first? WTF?

For home theater enthusiasts the XBOX One has no more value than a stinkin’ ROKU player…wait – that’s not true.  The ROKU will play files off of a local PC.  OOPS!

It is clear to me that the XBONE is now merely a device for locking you into Microsoft’s entertainment ecosystem.  An overpowered AppleTV (oh wait…Apple TV can stream music and video from a PC running iTunes – D-OH!) designed to lock us into streaming from XBOX Music and Video.

Why not just use Xbox Music?  Xbox Music streams lossy WMAs and the band Metallica (amongst others) is nowhere to be found.  Over the years many of us have created bit-perfect collections of lossless WMAs…and Metallica is essential to any music collection – especially when gaming.  If you have a solid home theater sound system, then lossy music just won’t cut it.  Not to mention I’ve already bought the music I like – why would I pay $10/month to listen to the albums I already own in a format that sounds worse than what I have?

Other home theater sins of the XBONE:

  1. Can’t play Dolby 5.1 or 7.1 through the optical out.
  2. Cant download Movies from Xbox Video – it can only stream them.  (The frame rate is better when you download…plus it makes me feel closer to my copy of Star Trek: Into Darkness.)
  3. It can’t take a video feed from a PC Tuner Card.
  4. To use DVR functionality on your cable box you have to leave the XBOX Dashboard and just use the Cable Box Remote…Kinect only works on live TV.
  5. No Xfinity App.
  6. No Analog audio out (I knew this one in advance, but it still pisses me off).
  7. No 24-bit audio streaming.

Albeit, these are First World problems.  There are people starving, with their homes and lives destroyed by Typhoons….so do I feel a little silly complaining about my game console in my comfortable and safe home.

I am perplexed major review sites which have been fawning over the new XBOX and are simply omitting that it renders the content you own at home all but unreachable.   I think they must have the same exact problem that the news media has with our politicians – the problem of access.  The price of access seems to be the elimination of critical thought.

Did you write an article that points out the flaws in our (INSERT HERE: car, gadget, public policy)?  If so, then you will no longer have access to (INSERT HERE: test drives, E3 invite, interviews with the candidate).

I feel that a certain trust has been broken by Microsoft with it’s most recent product.  If you are a home theater enthusiast, and have not yet ordered your XBONE – Don’t.  This $500 paperweight needs some major updating to make it do what a $69 media streamer can do out of the box.

The thumbnail viewer of Windows Media Player 1...

The thumbnail viewer of Windows Media Player 12 in Windows 7 Home Premium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

UPDATE (6/16/2014):  Since this post gets a lot of hits I feel the need to do a brief update.  I do not think that the technique here works any longer with the newer versions of Android OS and Google Music player.  I abandoned using Android out of frustration with this process once my phone updated to Ice Cream Sandwich.  (Windows Phone does sync natively with Windows Media Player – FYI).  If you are using a version of Android (2.x or 3.x) this process may still work. 

 

I dislike loading extra software onto my PC or phone.  I’m always worried that whatever is being installed will clutter up my otherwise clean OS and create conflicts and performance issues.

Therefore, I use Windows Media Player to organize my music collection and prefer to use the stock music player on my Android phone.  Unfortunately, WMP does not transfer playlists to the Android music player when it syncs the music files.

After much research and experimentation I finally discovered that it is possible to simply cut and paste a native .wpl (Windows Media) playlist into the Android “Music” folder and the Play Music app will see it and play it.  No additional software required.

Google Play Music

This is a nice discovery considering that Windows Media Center is my preferred home entertainment platform.  Thus, you can make a playlist conveniently on your PC, use the same list on your Xbox360 for the home and have that playlist work on your Android phone.