When the Xbox One debuted, its promise wasn't about gaming at all — it was about the device's potential to become the centerpiece of your living room. Microsoft envisioned an experience in which everything on your TV was run through the Xbox — in which you don't even need a remote because it knows your voice, and when you're in the room, and what gestures you're making.
And starting Wednesday, April 8, the Xbox One allows users to watch live TV, thereby crossing one of the last, and oldest, frontiers into fulfilling that promise.
While there are easier ways to get broadcast television than running it through a gaming console, watching live TV through an Xbox comes with unique advantages. Viewers will have access to voice-activated commands to change the channel, will be able to pause live TV, view TV listings, and use Snap — the feature that allows Xbox users to dedicate half the screen to TV, and the other half to something else, like games or Skype.
To do all this, Xbox partnered with Hauppauge, an over-the-air television company that has been in the business for 23 years. To get broadcast TV, Xbox users will need to purchase the Hauppauge WinTV-955Q for $80, and an HDTV antenna.
That one-time price won't get you access to a whole lot of channels, just the broadcast networks available in your area. Think ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS — the same as a normal over-the-air antenna picks up. For cable, Microsoft is touting the option to pair the Xbox with Sling TV, theoretically obviating the need for cable altogether (especially now that it offers HBO) The draw, in Microsoft's view, is that the $60 for hardware and $20 a month for Sling TV is worth never having to switch inputs to anything other than your Xbox.
The release of Xbox's live TV feature comes immediately after the launch of Playstation Vue, Sony's bid to redefine television. By relying on partners (Hauppauge and Sling) to offer the requisite amount of viewing options necessary to pull someone away from the television and into the console, Microsoft's take on internet TV is relatively decentralized. Vue is attempting something more ambitious than this, and given Sony's victory in its initial sales race with Microsoft on the back of a gaming-first console, adding an over-the-air receiver might not be enough.