Editorial

TV is Microsoft's for the taking, if it wants

When Microsoft announced the Xbox One last year, it heavily promoted the television features of the device. Microsoft actually had a grander vision for television, however, one that appears to have ultimately been scrapped.

Prior to Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal, reports surfaced that the company wouldn’t unleash one new Xbox console, but two: The Xbox One as well as a set-top box more focused on TV content than gaming. Further reports indicated Microsoft wanted to create its own subscription TV service, potentially called Xbox Live Diamond (a step up from Xbox Live Gold), but problems with channel operators torpedoed the plans. The Xbox One still ended up with significant television capabilities, including several streaming apps and the ability to control existing cable and satellite set-top boxes, but what shipped lacked the grandeur Microsoft had planned.

On the computer front, Microsoft has practically abandoned TV entirely. The company’s Windows Media Center software is essentially dead, as it now only exists as an add-on pack for Windows 8 Pro and lacks significant updates since its Windows 7 iteration. While third-party TV tuner software still exists, most lack the quality found in Media Center, which mostly received raved reviews when it launched. Part of the problem can be placed on consumer habits, as TV tuners haven’t exactly become a hot commodity, but the market appears to have shifted to an area where Microsoft can still compete – and perhaps compete even better: hardware.

As Microsoft toils with uncertainty for its TV plans outside its new console, its competitors are champing at the bit for a place in the growing field. Apple TV is expected to receive a major update in the near future, with gaming and subscription features rumored in the pipeline. Google is expected to announce a massive overhaul of Android TV, with gaming capabilities, a refined interface and dedicated apps. Even Amazon is entering the fray with its recently announced Fire TV, a set-top box based on Android with apps, gaming and streaming services tied in.

The set-top box market is growing, and it's also ripe for Microsoft's taking.

If the combination of apps, light gaming features and service integration sounds familiar for a TV set-top box, it should: That’s exactly the kind of device Microsoft was considering launching alongside the Xbox One before getting cold feet.

Xbox TV would have been a predecessor to Fire TV and the reported overhaul of Android TV, with the ability to play casual games and stream multimedia content from an operating system based on “the core components of Windows 8.” According to some reports, the device would have even featured an integrated Kinect sensor, allowing voice navigation and video chatting – the former of which will be offered by Fire TV, but the latter of which no major player is even attempting in the set-top box field.

Microsoft’s reluctance to take a game-changing step into the TV field makes sense, given that channel operators and content producers are notoriously cutthroat when it comes to retransmission agreements and licensing content. As more technology companies enter the set-top box field, however, it’s clear they’re willing to start small, with third-party streaming services, first-party content services and apps serving as the overwhelming majority of entertainment features at the moment. So the question remains: Why not enter the field and strike while the iron’s hot?

Office for iPad and free Windows licensing for small-screen devices show the importance of services to Microsoft. The Redmond giant is clearly focused on getting users tied into its infrastructure, and sometimes doing so requires gambles.

While Amazon can offer its voice search for Fire TV, Microsoft can offer Cortana with Bing integration. While Google and Apple can offer the Play Store and iTunes, respectively, Microsoft can offer its Xbox stores. And on the gaming front, none of Microsoft’s competitors can offer an infrastructure that rivals Xbox Live. If Microsoft wants to go further, it could integrate a Kinect sensor in the device for video calling, as was reported in 2012, and tie in Skype as a service.

Even on the interface front, Microsoft seems prepared for a set-top box. Its Metro design language may have been met with a mixed response from PC users, but it’s hard to argue that the interface’s tiles aren’t appealing on a TV. It’s no surprise that Google’s purported Android TV design eschews icons in favor of tiles similar to those found on a Metro interface – it’s simply a better fit for a screen that people sit several feet away from. Programming listings also fit perfectly within the design, as Xbox One’s OneGuide has proven.

Perhaps the biggest reason why Microsoft seems poised for an entry in television, however, came at its recent Build 2014 developer conference. There, Microsoft announced its universal app initiative, allowing developers to make Windows and Windows Phone apps for a combined store with greater ease than before. Xbox One app and game development will benefit from the initiative as well, which will surely encourage developers to release their work across the entire Windows ecosystem.

Microsoft seems uniquely qualified in the tech industry to make a TV set-top box. Typically, companies face many questions when entering a new market segment. The only major question Microsoft faces for a set-top box, however, is why it hasn’t made one yet.

Images via Microsoft

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Microsoft tried several times to offer digital solutions to cable and satellite. They made some inroads, but were thwarted by Motorola and others pushing back.

Ironically, many of the proposals Microsoft offered are now being adopted in a less cohesive manner by these same providers.

Microsoft was too early, and this is not about Media Center.

If they can get content providers to take notice again, they could make the XB360 a viable tool and XB1 as premium tools.

My issue with Xbox TV (Video) is the cost. And its not all MS fault, but the content providers. I am a cord cutter for over a year. I use xbox for getting seasons of walking dead and falling skies (among others). I have an issue paying $44 bucks for 16 episodes, when I can wait a few months and get the Blu-Ray for $18.00.

Microsoft and Xbox are already in the TV business. There are over 80 million Xbox's sold world wide. With over 40% of those boxes watching over 30 hours a month of movie and TV content. That equates to over 32 million xbox's using their device for tv and video content. That is more than what most cable subscribers have. It is more than users than Apple TV's and Google TV's combined. Xbox 360 has over 70 video apps, droves more than what's available on Apple TV. Just because Xbox does not have TV next to its name does not mean it is not in the TV biz.

With the success of Xbox, MS shifted its TV strategy from the PC (Media Center) to the Xbox. With the release of Xbox One, the device is designed as the primary TV watching component of your home theater system in both hardware design and software. At launch you can connect your TV Cable box directly into the Xbox and have an almost complete unification of Cable TV and IPTV. The last two updates have only improved the experience and I can only expect it to get even better with each update moving forward.

I personally have my Xbox One as my primary device to watch Cable TV and IPTV in my family room. I say "Xbox On" and it powers on my TV and Amp and between its own remote control and smart glass, use both to watch TV on my Media Center PC through the HDMI TV in connection. No other device has that complete TV integration today, not even close. And this is on initial launch, imagine what it will look like next year.

With roughly 500,000 Xbox One's and 360's sold each month MS does not necessarily need another hardware device for the living. It does not mean they won't in the future but to say MS in not in the TV business is flat out wrong. Not only are they in the TV biz they are very successful in it which is more than Google can say about its Google TV experiment.

I do not normally comment on web postings but I'm rather passionate about MS, Xbox and their TV experience, and could not let this article go without saying something.

Microsoft hired Nancy Tellem for a reason. Did they not? Microsoft has the loot, maybe they should just build their own true tv channel. Netflix and Amazon are gobbling up content at rapid pace. There is something to be learned from them.
They have already started production of original shows. Just expand upon it

Believe it or not, MS has a lot of content for Xbox Video, I've actually started purchasing from them in Windows 8.1 and may cancel Netflix. Microsoft has just about all of my true crime series on Investigation Discovery Network. Netflix has a few but are behind several seasons and only have a handful of shows. Xbox Video has them all. I've spent over $100 in season passes in the past week.

Netflix seems to offer something for everyone in my family right now.
I would rather just own the content, but that is not an option right now.

My son is a teen, so it doesn't matter to him...
But my other kids are young....

MorganX said,
Believe it or not, MS has a lot of content for Xbox Video, I've actually started purchasing from them in Windows 8.1 and may cancel Netflix. Microsoft has just about all of my true crime series on Investigation Discovery Network. Netflix has a few but are behind several seasons and only have a handful of shows. Xbox Video has them all. I've spent over $100 in season passes in the past week.

Yeah there is the thing, money is obviously meaningless to you.
Spending 100 bucks for a few season passes, versus the 5 bucks a month a Netflix subscription is.

The thing is we spend money to get what we want. Most people aren't cheap if they don't have to be. They will pay for what they want, and sometimes you get what you pay for. Netflix does not have the shows I want to watch. That's the only thing that matters. It's 7.99 a month, and I pay that as well. I'll pay a little or a lot to get what I want, but what I won't do, is pay for something and watch shows I'm not interested in simply because it's cheap. That's why I work, so I can afford what I want. It would be great if Netflix had all the shows I watch, but they do not. Xbox Video does.

Yeah for you Netflix might not have what you want, try another country's Netflix then.
Most series I watch are on it, often a season behind, but ah well.
And 5 euro's for each movie, or wait a little (whats popular will eventually come on Netlflix anyways) and under the 8euro a month, or for me, 12 euro a month for 4 people.
For 5 euro I can go to the movie theatre.

To each their own ofc, but comparing prices and material, 5euro per movie vs 8 euro a month and see thousands and popular ones just lagging behind.

Before branching out on peripheral products, make sure your core products are solid. Fix Windows first, then worry about the rest.

TsarNikky said,
Before branching out on peripheral products, make sure your core products are solid. Fix Windows first, then worry about the rest.

WOW, is it broken?

Windows-8 is hardly the best suited OS for businesses, as it's UI is clearly oriented to tablet and touch-centric users. MS's attempts to "fix" the OS with add-ons are just that...add-ons.

OH boy. Can the businesses not open their Programs anymore? Can they not use mouse and keyboard with their Programs? let me just check which problems I don't have - Ticketing System | Java IDE | SAP | Office | IE11 | Business Objects | Total Commander | Team viewer | MS Project. hmm.. Tell me why I cant use this in my business?

An Xbox "Mini" or XTV or whatever is a good idea. Not everyone wants a big Xbox in their house. I would prefer having a smaller Xbox TV in the bedroom (360 is too noisy)

In any case, more Media Centre please!! At least make a Modern version

ZipZapRap said,
In any case, more Media Centre please!! At least make a Modern version

I wholeheartedly agree. WMC is easily the bees knees of TV software, but for some reason they've decided to can it in favour of XBOX? Please.

Microsoft had vision, and they were executing it beautifully. WMC PC with XBOX 360 extenders around the house just works, and it works spectacularly. Even outside the US the experience can be made to work, albeit with some tinkering (Primarily the guide).

If you've ever experienced a WMC PC with XBOX 360 extenders and MyMovies+MediaBrowser, you know how good TV can be. Universal guide with centralised recordings on effectively limitless storage that could be somewhat easily played on your portable playback devices and all computers in your house, with the added ability to be able to browse the Internet if you so desired.

Microsoft had this, they had it all made, and they've abandoned it for a product that completely pales in comparison. Why?
All it is really missing IMO was the ability to use any Windows PC as a WMC extender (This limitation is seriously annoying) and the ability to playback MKV files on your XBOX 360 natively. Add these two features, and everything else can go jump.

I remember upgrading to this from our pay TV PVR STB that was complete rubbish in comparison. The storage space was miniscule, you couldn't get recordings off it, and the PVR software was buggy as hell and constantly crashed. When we downgraded to a standard STB and hooked it into WMC, our TV experience changed dramatically. Proper and reliable series linking, intelligent tuner allocations, house-wide pay-tv streaming, it had it all. It's still the centrepiece of our media distribution system and will remain so for the foreseeable future, it's just that good.

TL;DR: Please get back in and continue upgrading WMC Microsoft, please!!

Ideas Man said,
.....

WMC is dead technology.
The people with the money do not want the product to exist.
Cable operators were very upset with Microsoft for providing a superior experience that bypassed their own set top box technology.

The users of WMC also played a role in killing WMC.

According to (sinofsky)'s blog post on Telemetry that was gathered for W8 development showed that less than 1% of Win Vista/7 users actually used the software.

So really, we need those still clinging to WMC to change PC settings to enable the customer experience improvement program and let your devices report back to MS that this software is relevant to us.

Ideas Man said,

Even outside the US the experience can be made to work, albeit with some tinkering (Primarily the guide).

Thats where IMO the problem is, if MS took it upon themselves to go global and make this work everywhere, they might've gotten more media behind them, not just US only. They could've become Netflix and control the internet-streaming market.
But noo, US only attitude.

Netflix does think this way, the moment they become available in a country, they do their bests to get those countries TV series/shows/movies on Netflix. They got all sorts of Dutch shows, cabaret, series and movies listed on there.

But nah, MS attempting to cater a non-US citizen, hell will freeze over sooner.

A shame MS didn't release a $99 Xbox that just runs the apps (and maybe some of the games depending on how powerful it is) last year. That's a much larger potential market than a games console will ever be.

Fingers crossed they get one released this year before they cede the entire casual entertainment market to AppleTV, FireTV, AndroidTV/Chromecast, and Roku.

prettyconfusd said,
A shame MS didn't release a $99 Xbox that just runs the apps (and maybe some of the games depending on how powerful it is) last year. That's a much larger potential market than a games console will ever be.

Fingers crossed they get one released this year before they cede the entire casual entertainment market to AppleTV, FireTV, AndroidTV/Chromecast, and Roku.


something is holding back the opening of the store on the xbox one, the unified apps. A slimline 'no AAA games' version for media only and casual games would have little content until this happens, after i truly expect a set top box version to be released.

prettyconfusd said,
A shame MS didn't release a $99 Xbox that just runs the apps (and maybe some of the games depending on how powerful it is) last year. That's a much larger potential market than a games console will ever be.

Fingers crossed they get one released this year before they cede the entire casual entertainment market to AppleTV, FireTV, AndroidTV/Chromecast, and Roku.

Really? Everyone keeps saying the $99 app box is a much bigger market and yet Apple/Roku/Google/Chromecast sell like crap compared to PlayStation and Xbox. I think the market for game systems that run these apps is actually bigger than a box that runs these apps, but not console quality games.

Avatar Roku said,

Really? Everyone keeps saying the $99 app box is a much bigger market and yet Apple/Roku/Google/Chromecast sell like crap compared to PlayStation and Xbox. I think the market for game systems that run these apps is actually bigger than a box that runs these apps, but not console quality games.


i agree, but xbox could have presence in both to suit all price points and the apps themselves are almost a given with the run anywhere shift. Pay once, use on all (xbox, pc, laptop, tablet, phone) and all sync with all using just one account with cortana following you around getting smarter all the time, digital lifestyle bliss.

The cable industry, despite currently in decline is still a power house and have locked up content and access from Netflix, Google, Apple, and Microsoft. They don't want the tech companies coming in unless it's more on there terms.

Along the lines of apple working with comcast to go through them for infrastructure, possible content Until the comcast merger was announced, netflix was in the process of getting there app on the actual cable box. (Netflix had no luck with Comcast and putting netflix in there box).

Only reason Netflix got to it's scale in power is the content / cable industry underestimated the impact when the content was licensed / netflix was young. Since then, they've not been able to kill Netflix, but make it much more expensive and restrict some content.

Hulu on the other hand is currently owned by NBC Universal aka Comcast, and if they were not worried about the back lash of required / verify a cable subscription, they would of enforced it by now.

Title should be "US TV is Microsoft's for the taking, if it wants".

Cable providers in canada already have their own set top box and ppv channel, tv on demand and such. Some of them also have mobile apps to remotely manage recording and such. Bell, Rodgers, Vidéotron, etc are at war and could probably not care less about the One TV features.

This, Dutch cable-tv all have on demand and netflix like services. Our public stations have similar to the BBC i-player (uitzendinggemist.nl).

I'm all in for a US-Only tag in news posts. Stupid tunnel vision of the world MS and many companies/sites have.

We're years away from truly better solutions, but at least a few including MS are inching forward best they can. They're holding onto old business models like grim death.

They have games + XBL, Kinect + SmartGlass control, Cortana + content search across all video stores, HDMI-input for live TV, multi-tasking + universal app support from Windows, and now original exclusive video content like Netflix/HBO is coming.

They need to do a better job of tracking what channel you are on. When people use their cable box remotes the system has no idea what channel you are viewing. They could do video/audio analysis to determine what channel you're watching.

There are two noteworthy stumbling blocks as well: The nonsensical XBL paywall on apps (which will be removed soon) and the price of the system which is coming down to $399 soon.

I also think they should partner with one or more cable companies to offer subsidized Xbox Ones for something like $99 down on a two year contract with free Xbox Live for the duration of the initial contract. The cable/satellite companies would benefit from stemming the tide of cord cutting plus it will have the benefit of not using their network bandwidth for live TV. They could even put on their DVR software to access their on demand content. It would be a huge win all around. . To date MS has been the only company smart enough to put in a HDMI input and a guide that works. Because of this, it will work with virtually any cable provider around the world. No network specific hardware required.

Cable Operators killed Windows Media Center.
IPTV Operators failed to adopt last generation gaming hardware as STB, MS sold their platform to Ericsson.
XBOX ONE is the next go at taking over the living room, but not at the expense of any stakeholder.


The business of television is a convoluted complicated mess. Whenever MS try to step in they annoy some stakeholder and then all the great ideas / software / solutions get tossed.

Now that they are licensing content for XBOX Video, that's as close as we'll see toward MS "Taking the TV"

Edited by deadonthefloor, Apr 8 2014, 9:27pm :

deadonthefloor said,
Cable Operators killed Windows Media Center.
IPTV Operators failed to adopt last generation gaming hardware as STB, MS sold their platform to Ericsson.
XBOX ONE is the next go at taking over the living room, but not at the expense of any stakeholder.


The business of television is a convoluted complicated mess. Whenever MS try to step in they annoy some stakeholder and then all the great ideas / software / solutions get tossed.

Now that they are licensing content for XBOX Video, that's as close as we'll see toward MS "Taking the TV"


Totally agree

Actually, it wasn't cable operators per se - but the HARDWARE side of NCTA (represented by CableLabs), because they wanted/desired an IP-neutral solution, and IP from a single company - Microsoft - didn't cut it. (In this case, IP means Intellectual Property.) Also, at the time General Instrument had just been sold to Motorola, and things were still largely in flux there. (Other than the DOCSIS group there, things have not really recovered - said group was sold to ARRIS completely separate from the rest of Motorola being acquired by Google.) Further, cable providers ALSO have a paywall (they have to have it to preserve the value of VOD) - they don't want a two-paywall problem, as there is existence a-plenty concerning opposition to paywalls by cable customers - or other video customers - in the first place. The only way that Netflix, etc, defends paywalls is for content exclusivity.

My only comment, for the market you are referring to, the device and ecosystem has to work, work as expected, virtually all the time. Five 9s. Do you really think any of MS' services are really ready for that type of performance and reliability for true Mass market?

MorganX said,
Five 9s.

Carrier grade solutions.

The Mediaroom IPTV platform they was close to that. Too bad they had to sell it to Ericsson to avoid conflict of interest between Mediaroom (and stakeholders) and their own in house XBOX Music / XBOX Video platforms.

As far as what remains, they haven't offered anything in Microsoft Azure as "Carrier grade", most notably with SQL Azure getting 99.95% SLA.

MorganX said,
My only comment, for the market you are referring to, the device and ecosystem has to work, work as expected, virtually all the time. Five 9s. Do you really think any of MS' services are really ready for that type of performance and reliability for true Mass market?

Apparently they had an entire division of media services for mass market which they sold recently to erricsson called media room. I bet they use the same technology in xbox

trojan_market said,

mediaroom. ... same technology in xbox

As someone who works with the Mediaroom product I can guarantee that there is no similarity between what's being offered by MS today and the Mediaroom product. Oh, maybe a little C#.

Xbox Live has an uptime of over 99% and serves 70 million. They have been ready for quite some time and Azure is the highest rated cloud service so they are practically already there.

Yeah, notice I didn't add anything after the 99. Sure it can always use improvement, I agree. But it's very robust already.

MorganX said,
My only comment, for the market you are referring to, the device and ecosystem has to work, work as expected, virtually all the time. Five 9s. Do you really think any of MS' services are really ready for that type of performance and reliability for true Mass market?

Wow, you have no clue about Microsoft technologies.

A majority of the 'content' you are probably consuming on the internet is already built on Microsoft technologies.

Netflix or Hulu ring any bells?

(Netflix is based on the server side of Zune technologies, uses a variation of MS's adaptive streaming, and Hulu uses Microsoft for dynamic conversion and device support for devices like iPads.)

Oh and don't forget all the digital distribution Microsoft pioneered for movie distribution and digital theaters.

Go look up Microsoft media technologies, their IPTV, etc.

Also you act like Windows and Azure are somehow 'flaky'. You do realize that right now WP and Windows 8 and Windows Server and Azure are the MOST STABLE and reliable OS technologies currently available. (This is fact, go look it up.)

Edited by Mobius Enigma, Apr 10 2014, 7:33am :

Everything you said is COMPLETELY irrelevant to the fact that Microsoft's video services are nowhere near as reliable as say Netflix, in my experience. The fact that Windows Server may be stable doesn't actually change that fact. As for media and streaming, Windows Azure hasn't really been tested at this level. I have an old calculator that is quite stable and 100% reliable and has 99.999% uptime, but I wouldn't run a TV service on it, especially if the much smaller video services I ran on it, had constant reliability issues.

There's a big difference between it works for me, streams music fine, video, you will experience issues from streaming quality, availability, freezes, to account login issues and being a TV Carrier.

I don't doubt those that say MS did have this grade of service and sold it. For whatever reason. I don't think that reason was because Azure could replace it for that purpose.

MorganX said,
Everything you said is COMPLETELY irrelevant to the fact that Microsoft's video services are nowhere near as reliable as say Netflix, in my experience. The fact that Windows Server may be stable doesn't actually change that fact. As for media and streaming, Windows Azure hasn't really been tested at this level. I have an old calculator that is quite stable and 100% reliable and has 99.999% uptime, but I wouldn't run a TV service on it, especially if the much smaller video services I ran on it, had constant reliability issues.

There's a big difference between it works for me, streams music fine, video, you will experience issues from streaming quality, availability, freezes, to account login issues and being a TV Carrier.

I don't doubt those that say MS did have this grade of service and sold it. For whatever reason. I don't think that reason was because Azure could replace it for that purpose.

Wrong and Wrong.

Azure has been more than tested at that level, in fact it is heavily used already.

For example:
Azure specifically is what provides conversion and delivery of Hulu for a lot of devices, like iOS that doesn't support the Hulu format natively. (And this is one of a 1000 similar examples.)

Many of the 'content' providers you are probably using already use Microsoft backend services for account verification and authentication and also partner for streaming and storage.

(This is a big list already, from studios to many huge networks/channels. Example: ESPN uses Microsoft video technologies for delivery to providers.)

Even look up Xbox Video/Zune Video and the quality and content delivery. It was one of the first, and still is on the highest quality services. Also look how Netflix's technology was built off MS content technologies - this is why Netflix streaming appeared on the XB360 first.

(It is quite ironic to state you want the consistency and quality of Netflix, but don't trust Microsoft, that built Netflix's technologies. - Wow.)

You need to do so research on what Microsoft provides and you will see how off base your assumptions are.