Xbox 360 Metro update cripples third-party video playback

An investigation from Digital Foundry has made some worrying discoveries about the new Xbox Dashboard. Reports dating back to the beta test suggested that video playback had been crippled, with users noticing sub-standard quality in their videos. But further tests have shown that the situation is more complicated than previously thought.

An in-depth analysis reported by Eurogamer has now revealed a definite bias towards certain video sources. Although 1080p videos will play back, the output has been scaled down to 720p. Furthermore, histogram analysis shows that at 720p, the Metro update ignores any full-range RGB settings and reverts to a more limited 16-235 range; other issues include compression artifacts and washed-out images.

The exception to the rule is Zune. Content from the Zune Marketplace runs at 1080p resolution, but video from anywhere else (even Microsoft's video partners) has been crippled. It's an odd limitation, especially considering Microsoft's emphasis on the Xbox as a media playback hub.

"The obvious conclusion is that the SDK Microsoft is believed to have supplied to third-party video partners is limited to 720p only," Digital Foundry writes, "the message we draw from this is that the platform holder wants to expand the take-up of the Xbox 360 as a media-streaming device, but very much on its own terms with its own content getting the best quality."

Microsoft has acknowledged the feedback and said that it will take it into "consideration for future releases". Until then, readers looking to show off their fancy new screens would be best advised to use something else for playback.

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47 Comments

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Not surprising. These days "updates" introduce new features but almost always cause regressions/introduce limitations in Microsoft software. You have no choice to but live with it or get left behind.

smooth3006 said,
Metro has got to go!

Ya cause having an easier to use interface, that you can use your hand, controller, voice, keypad to navigation easily is just stupid, we need punch cards that we should shove in the side to control the device.

wow...

VLC + PC, i amazed that you people bother with Zune, Metro, XBOX Dashboard crap.

Use VLC and you can set it to do streaming and enjoy.

techguy77 said,
VLC + PC, i amazed that you people bother with Zune, Metro, XBOX Dashboard crap.

That "crap" is from Microsoft, and it's also thanks to Microsoft you can freaking run a PC.
I amazed as well that you bother with Windows PC crap.

techguy77 said,
VLC + PC, i amazed that you people bother with Zune, Metro, XBOX Dashboard crap.

Use VLC and you can set it to do streaming and enjoy.

VLC is absolutely horrible when it comes to video quality. You want MPC-HC with a proper renderer (Haali or MadVR).

techguy77 said,
VLC + PC, i amazed that you people bother with Zune, Metro, XBOX Dashboard crap.

Use VLC and you can set it to do streaming and enjoy.

Ah how cute, some kiddie found a cool program that is magical to them.

Just do this, go research VLC and the codec technologies it uses. The majority of the codecs and variations of the codec support come from Microsoft, when they wrote an early draft of MPEG4 back in the 90s. Microsoft dumped it and released the code, and VLC uses codecs built from this. VLC even uses Microsoft's own VC1 (aka WMA/WMV).

So you can believe Microsoft stuff is crap, but it is the basis of the crap of the thing you love...

Also Zune technologies are the continuation of IIS streaming and added variable bit rate technologies and smooth streaming technologies for codecs that Microsoft gave a lot away, which is why we have online stream of movies and HD content from companies like Netflix, etc.

You also have to thank Intel, Apple, and Microsoft again for the video codec technologies of the lates 80s and 90s.

downhillrider said,
How about MS sucking it up and put a blu ray player in the nex gen 360.

How about you wait for E3 before complaining about something that doesn't yet exist?

UndergroundWire said,

How about you wait for E3 before complaining about something that doesn't yet exist?


True, but I do second his point. I am eagerly awaiting E3 particularly to see if they will finally include a Bluray drive. I think it's a requirement at this point.

M_Lyons10 said,

True, but I do second his point. I am eagerly awaiting E3 particularly to see if they will finally include a Bluray drive. I think it's a requirement at this point.

Yes, but we know nothing about it. His statement was very negative. You're statement is not negative and is basically coming out like features you would like to see.

And yes I agree that Blu-ray is pretty much a requirement. Not for movie playback but more so for gaming content. I have always had a separate player for movies. I don't want wear and tear on that drive for my media playback.

M_Lyons10 said,

True, but I do second his point. I am eagerly awaiting E3 particularly to see if they will finally include a Bluray drive. I think it's a requirement at this point.

Forget it. There won't be a blu-ray for XBox.

downhillrider said,
How about MS sucking it up and put a blu ray player in the nex gen 360.

People still use Blu-Ray, and why?

Here is why they won't... Flash is hitting the price point of Optical Media. So it would be cheaper to distribute Movies on SD cards in HD. (Also the rental options of secured Flash from a RedBox would also work well, as the user would not have to return the SD card.)

The other problem with Blu-Ray, is bandwidth. And smooth streaming HD content at Blu-Ray quality is now easy for a larger portion of the US and World population. Even 3mbps DSL can shove near Blu-Ray smooth streaming content from the Internet, with maybe a 5 minute delay start at the most.

The need for a physical media for Movies/Content is about over in history. With users using SD/Flash during the transition to full online all the time high speed access to content.

Optical always had an edge when it was capable of delivering a larger pool of data on cheap media than what average consumers had at their disposal. Even BluRay doesn't do this, as most users have 25-50gb free HD space, and access to portable 1TB backup drivers fairly easily.

The CD could deliver 800mb of data in a time when 512kb was huge for consumers to have access to. DVDs could deliver 7.5gb of data when a 500mb was huge for consumers to have access to.

BluRay could deliver 25-50gb of data when most users had access to 80-160gb easily, with even consoles like the XBox shipping with 20gb HD for users, with 160/320gb Hard Drives being common on consoles now.
*This is why BluRay and even HD-DVD were short term and failed to meet the 'vast' storage the previous generations of optical media could deliver. With the additional, move 'backwards' in performance over the previous generation of optical media, it was even more doomed to be short term.


The HD price increase will ramp up Flash production, and thus help the Flash costs drop below the cost of a disposable BluRay disc with higher capacity.


If you want a BluRay play, go to Walmart and spend $40, but don't demand Microsoft put this piece of crap in the next XBox and raise the production and licensing costs.

thenetavenger said,
...

I'm trying to understand to what you are writing here. More than likely Blu-ray will be on the next generation of the Xbox. Gaming content will not be delivered on a Flash drive because of relative costs. Flash drives are still more expensive than Blu-ray discs when comparing the capacity.

Second, I don't think we are yet ready for online distribution of games because of bandwidth constraints world-wide.

Time will tell though.

As far as movie playback, I agree that you are better of buying a separate device for that. Most people who love their HD movies have already done so. However that number doesn't compare to the people who say that DVD is good enough for me.

It all makes sense now, i ripped my dvd version of the new planet of the apes and stored it on my server. whilst i was watching it i noticed that it was very much washed out, but was fine playing back from laptop.! sheeesh! nice move xbox!

How does the update itself cripple these apps? These apps weren't downgraded by the dashboard update - they came out after the dashboard update did they not?

I'd assume it's the SDK itself is limited at 720p - you can quite clearly see EVERYTHING in those apps (menus, text, etc) are not rendered at 1080p, and performance is still pretty terrible in them.

Thankgod they didn't decide to "update" the Sky app, and one can only hope the BBC app turns out more like the Sky app, and not the same as all these "new" apps. Sky and Zune and I take it Netflix aren't made using this new crappy apps SDK, and all are capable of better quality video.

~Johnny said,
How does the update itself cripple these apps? These apps weren't downgraded by the dashboard update - they came out after the dashboard update did they not?

I'd assume it's the SDK itself is limited at 720p - you can quite clearly see EVERYTHING in those apps (menus, text, etc) are not rendered at 1080p, and performance is still pretty terrible in them.

Thankgod they didn't decide to "update" the Sky app, and one can only hope the BBC app turns out more like the Sky app, and not the same as all these "new" apps. Sky and Zune and I take it Netflix aren't made using this new crappy apps SDK, and all are capable of better quality video.

Not necessarily. This issue also affects games as well. They compared it using NFS: The Run and it was clearly using the limited RGB range since the colors looked washed out and were off in hue after the update. I don't believe the SDK has anything to do with this. This was some change they made in the dash release.

shinji257 said,

Not necessarily. This issue also affects games as well. They compared it using NFS: The Run and it was clearly using the limited RGB range since the colors looked washed out and were off in hue after the update. I don't believe the SDK has anything to do with this. This was some change they made in the dash release.


Well, the SDK likely targets some sort of runtime or something. This was likely updated. Sounds like a bug more than anything... In fairness to Microsoft though, they rarely introduce bugs like this... When's the last time something like this happened with .NET for instance? I can only remember once. I'm sure it will be resolved.

shinji257 said,

Not necessarily. This issue also affects games as well. They compared it using NFS: The Run and it was clearly using the limited RGB range since the colors looked washed out and were off in hue after the update. I don't believe the SDK has anything to do with this. This was some change they made in the dash release.

Ah I was more specifically talking about why the new apps don't play in 1080p - whatever SDK those apps are built with (it certainly doesn't appear to be "native" / DirectX & C++), doesn't seem capable of 1080p, and hence it wasn't something the new update brought about - but that their particular SDK just doesn't support it yet. Whereas, Zune & Sky are built using different frameworks, hence their continued better video performance.

The limited RGB range of course, is quite noticeable when playing video, and quite annoying too (though I'm sure Noewin report this when the dashboard launched anyway).

~Johnny said,

Ah I was more specifically talking about why the new apps don't play in 1080p - whatever SDK those apps are built with (it certainly doesn't appear to be "native" / DirectX & C++), doesn't seem capable of 1080p, and hence it wasn't something the new update brought about - but that their particular SDK just doesn't support it yet. Whereas, Zune & Sky are built using different frameworks, hence their continued better video performance.

The limited RGB range of course, is quite noticeable when playing video, and quite annoying too (though I'm sure Noewin report this when the dashboard launched anyway).

The RGB issue is the real story here; however, it is only people with high-bit HD displays that can notice the difference. The 8-10bit screens don't seem to show the issue, but the newer 12-16bit TVs it is noticeable.

(Ironically, only the XBox 360, and Windows 7 can even address beyond the 8bit range, so users are being slipped back to what the PS3 and Linux and OS X users see.)

As for the 720p UI for the Apps, this is proper, and there is little reason based on the performance of the console's age to build a UI in 1080p, even DirecTV, TiVo, etc don't build their UIs beyond 720p either.

(Take a 2005/2006 High End PC hooked up to an 1080p display, and try getting even a DirectX/OpenGL Application to run fluidly with thumbnail video and animations, let alone the Silverlight/.NET App framework being used on the XBox that adds a small performance hit. It doesn't work so well, so the App UIs usng 720p is fine for this generation of console, and 99.9% of the users couldn't spot the difference from 8ft away.)

The problem with the 720p Apps is the Video content not 'stepping' outside the UI SDK and delivering the video at 1080p, which it seems is an oversight in the SDK or by the developers (having not looked through the new SDK I don't even have a guess which).

Either way, look for Microsoft to address this, by either instructing the Application developers how to deliver 1080p from their App, or adding in the features to the SDK.

As for the RGB issue, the SDK may be the problem with the framework limited to 8bpp (24bit) 16 million colors, where the original XBox could push out at least 12bpp (36bit).

Right now Windows 7 and the XBox are the only OSes that can generate beyond 16 million colors to a display. (24bit color + 8bit transparency = 32bit color depth)

If there are problems with the 'Extended vs Basic' RGB ranges, this may be a simple oversight of the Apps not respecting the user's display and settings.

"An investigation from Digital Foundry has made some worrying discoveries about the new Xbox Dashboard."

Sensationalist much? While this is not good and needs to be fixed, if your big worry in life is that your Xbox doesn't display the full color gamut rather than needing to find food, a job, housing, etc. then it appears to me you are winning at life. +1 to you.

nohone said,
"An investigation from Digital Foundry has made some worrying discoveries about the new Xbox Dashboard."

Sensationalist much? While this is not good and needs to be fixed, if your big worry in life is that your Xbox doesn't display the full color gamut rather than needing to find food, a job, housing, etc. then it appears to me you are winning at life. +1 to you.

since when, last time i checked digital foundry always benefit M$ in game comparison...

Zain Adeel said,
Neowin needs to come back to the future.

Marty: "Wait a minute, Doc. What are you talking about? What happens to Neowin in the future? What, do they become fanbois or something?"
Doc: "No, no, no, no, Marty. There will always be bad articles of Microsoft. It's their content, Marty. Something has got to be done about their outdated content."

UndergroundWire said,

Marty: "Wait a minute, Doc. What are you talking about? What happens to Neowin in the future? What, do they become fanbois or something?"
Doc: "No, no, no, no, Marty. There will always be bad articles of Microsoft. It's their content, Marty. Something has got to be done about their outdated content."

Marty: "Woah, Doc. That's heavy."

DiamondFootprint said,
Well another reason that my Xbox gathers dust.

Because of something you didn't know about that effects apps you don't use? Ok.

Johnny has a point. I've only loaded the apps up a few times. Not much use for them when I have a PC...

if the ps3 the did something like this the trolls would be swinging for the fences...but its semi tolerable because MS did it. look at the hacking scandal too...MS refuses to acknowledge and it seems thats ok with everyone

Co_Co said,
if the ps3 the did something like this the trolls would be swinging for the fences...but its semi tolerable because MS did it. look at the hacking scandal too...MS refuses to acknowledge and it seems thats ok with everyone

No way. A lot of people are disgusted with the new dashboard and it's the same with Microsoft's rather lukewarm attitude to the xbox live account problems. The general direction the Xbox brand is taking doesn't sit with people either. It's not all roses with the vocal Xbox core.

Co_Co said,
if the ps3 the did something like this the trolls would be swinging for the fences...but its semi tolerable because MS did it. look at the hacking scandal too...MS refuses to acknowledge and it seems thats ok with everyone

PS3 did worse, cineview....

ZeroHour said,

PS3 did worse, cineview....

Funny how i can still stream t.v show's and DTS Films from the pc to the ps3 no problem

oceanmotion said,
No way. A lot of people are disgusted with the new dashboard and it's the same with Microsoft's rather lukewarm attitude to the xbox live account problems.

You're a liar. You have no idea what you are talking about. Just take a look at the poll in the front page. People love the new dashboard. Blah, blah, blah.

Oh wait are you telling me that this site is filled with Microsoft fan boys? OK, I see what your saying now.

UndergroundWire said,

You're a liar. You have no idea what you are talking about. Just take a look at the poll in the front page. People love the new dashboard. Blah, blah, blah.

Oh wait are you telling me that this site is filled with Microsoft fan boys? OK, I see what your saying now.

Actually there is a lot of Microsoft fans in Neowin indeed...

tanjiajun_34 said,
Actually there is a lot of Microsoft fans in Neowin indeed...

You completely missed my sarcasm on the first paragraph. The second paragraph pretty much is the truth about most members of this site.

whitebread said,
That is BS

I say this because it's just so STUPID. What do they have to gain by doing this?! Nothing! You would think they would want to show off the power of the console and not artificially limit crap like this.

whitebread said,

I say this because it's just so STUPID. What do they have to gain by doing this?! Nothing! You would think they would want to show off the power of the console and not artificially limit crap like this.

What they have to gain is convincing people to purchase content from their Zune marketplace because "it looks better."

whitebread said,

I say this because it's just so STUPID. What do they have to gain by doing this?! Nothing! You would think they would want to show off the power of the console and not artificially limit crap like this.

Look how bad this [Insert Company Name] video service is. But Zine looks great. Let me subscribe.