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A Football Sunday With Xbox One

What happens when you try to use Microsoft's fancy new device for the exact reasons they want you to.

Of anyone at Giant Bomb, I’m probably the ideal candidate for what Xbox One says it's offering in its slick advertising. My primary interest in owning an Xbox One is playing great video games, but I’m also a cable subscriber, and someone who finds themselves watching live television on a regular basis.

My wife and I watch a whole lot of television, and though it’s been a while since I did the math, paying for season passes for every single show we watch would cost more than it does to have a cable box in our home every month. We like to experiment and keep up, not wait until the last season shows up before the next. We also watch lots of media not readily accessible on Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, and whatever streaming options you want to mention. She watches lots of cooking and reality shows, and we’re both glued to football on Sunday. Plus, during a culture moment like Breaking Bad, I don't want to wait until the episode is on iTunes.

This might not be you, and based on the vocal response from a whole lot of Microsoft’s core audience on Xbox 360, it’s probably not you. But you know what? That is me and my family, and I doubt it’s changing anytime soon. Microsoft is gambling there’s a larger audience to be brought into the fold through these integrated media extensions, even if there’s evidence cord cutting is influencing the bottom line of cable companies.

When Microsoft unveiled Xbox One back in May, the company spent a long time talking about being an all-in-one media box for the living room. If you had been hoping to hear all about new games, the event left you disappointed. It was the beginning of several public missteps on Microsoft’s part, but starting last Friday, Xbox One became a real thing, a device people are paying money for and seeing what it’s actually like.

Microsoft has made a big deal about the possibilities behind its “snap” functionality, which allows another application to run on the same screen. For me, that means playing a game and watching football simultaneously. This would never happen during a Chicago Bears game, but when other games are on and I’m passively tuning in, I can keep an eye on what’s happening while playing a game. In theory! Here’s how it went.

To my genuine surprise, it mostly worked! After booting up Ryse: Son of Rome, I’d yell “Xbox, snap TV” once (sometimes twice, if there was a particularly loud explosion on the screen) and the TV app would quickly slide in from the right, and after a moment or two, be on the same channel I’d left it. While all of this happens, since the Xbox is now “listening,” I had more than one instance where a friend’s idle comment prompted the channel to change. Xbox, never watch TBS! I don’t know if it’s possible for Kinect to learn a primary voice over time, but that would be awfully useful in the future. And as has been noted elsewhere, this feature causes two problems: the game doesn’t pause and there’s no way to mute the volume on the game or the TV channel. I didn’t care what was happening in Ryse, so it didn’t impact me, but it shouldn't work that way. As it's implemented, it stops me from doing grindy bits in a game and catching up on a TV show that doesn't really need the whole screen.

It would be really nice if Microsoft made a podcast app, by the way.

There are other tiny annoyances. I don’t know if I’m just overlooking the option, but it doesn’t appear possible to switch between the “main” screen and the “snap” screen with the controller or voice without tapping the home button, manually moving to the main screen, and switching. (Edit: Readers tell me this is accomplished by double tapping the home button, which is very useful information.) At random times, the interface would become incredibly sluggish. Not only would it be tough to navigate the menus, it had trouble displaying the TV feed. The best comparison I can make is that it looked like the football game was having frame rate problems.

But I’d say it worked as advertised 90% of the time, and that was enough to make me a skeptical believer. It felt kind of magical to be playing Ryse with the Broncos and Patriots game on the side, eventually closing TV because the game had become boring as hell, then randomly checking in on the game by snapping TV back on, and discovering the game had totally flipped. (Thank you, Peyton, for securing at least one fantasy win this week.) And for what it’s worth, it was easily the thing that impressed the people around me the most.

There are other football hooks in this box, too. At Xbox One’s unveiling, I might have been the only person in the office fist pumping over a partnership with the NFL. I’m in three different fantasy football leagues, and I often spend football games staring at the nearest iOS device to get updates on who I’m up against (and probably losing to) that week. Having fantasy updates on the screen as the games take place sounded awesome, but that excitement soured when it was revealed the launch would only incorporate NFL.com leagues, which almost nobody has. (Most people use Yahoo and ESPN, and those leagues are coming for next season.)

At the bare minimum, though, Xbox One could give me real-time score updates. Unfortunately, it never worked on Sunday, and that appeared to be the case for many others, according to an informal Twitter poll conducted by yours truly. Despite games being well into their first half, most of the scores sat stagnant at zero for each time, and was suggesting the games had not even begun. Rebooting the system didn’t help, snapping and unsnapping didn’t fix it--the app became useless to me. The app design needs work, too. On game day, I had to sort through scores manually. The games are spread across multiple pages, which means going through a series of mundane voice commands to see what’s changed (“Xbox Select,” “Xbox Page Right,” “Xbox Page Left”). Today, though, the scores are rotating on their own, which suggests maybe it was just my experience.

These annoyances stack up, but the biggest promise--playing a game and watching TV at the same time--worked beautifully. I haven’t had the same problems as Jeff when it comes to switching channels, but I’ve also picked out my favorites, which means Kinect is prioritizing to hear those channels over others when you talk to it. And while the lack of tapping into my DVR isn’t great, I somehow got it in my head that my remote wouldn’t work with it plugged into the Xbox One, which, of course, isn’t the case. I keep the remote nearby, and use it when necessary. The voice commands still work during a recorded show, and saying “Xbox Pause” is useful when someone hits the bathroom. Saying "fast forward" three times to really get it moving, however, is not.

Part of my positive reaction is, no doubt, that it’s new. I spent $500 on a shiny box, and it’s cool to show how the voice commands work to others. There was a genuine a-ha moment when my friend called me on Skype after the Packers game, and we talked shit. The real test is whether I keep doing this when football is over, and my big reason for doing two things at once disappears (the new Derrick Rose injury probably means I won’t watch much basketball). The real test is when it’s no longer about justifying my $500 box, and seeing if the 10% of times when Kinect doesn’t respond me to me becomes enough of a reason to stop using it altogether.

So far, I like it. I'll use it. What happens when the Bears are eliminated from the playoffs? I don’t know.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
106 Comments
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Edited by JustinAquarius

can't wait for this to use Yahoo! fantasy so i can tell in true real time just how terribly my team is doing.

Edited by brendanwins

I don't have any horse in the Sony/Microsoft race. I hope for both to do well enough to drive competition and innovation. That said, I don't understand Microsoft's insistence on pushing voice controls. I don't want to talk to an inanimate device unless we're on Star Trek levels of voice technology. And even then, it would still be a little weird.

Maybe I'm just a grumpy old dinosaur.

Posted by RavenDark

you switch between the snapped and main windows by saying "Xbox - switch" or double tapping the guide button.

Posted by Geo4690

Implying the Bears are going to make the playoffs... Go Pack Go!

Posted by JOSHardson

To switch between a snapped screen and the main screen, just double tap the home button. It's pretty quick, but I agree with most that it should default to the main screen.

Edited by playastation

@geo4690: The Pack doesn't look very good right now.

...

Flynnsanity.

Posted by planetary

I'm a cable subscriber at the moment, and I have zero interest in this convergence device. All of that even before you consider that Microsoft is a shitty company.

Posted by donkeyscrotes

So disappointing how this very feature is so broken in the UK.

Edited by TechDemoTREX

There's such an obvious divide between people who see potential and natural skeptics. I'm skeptical by nature so right now I'm seeing a lot of cumbersome stuff and a poor track record. And this console is still so USA-centric it makes my head spin.

Also, I was watching the original X1 reveal yesterday and now this comes up again. I am the only one who think it's absolutely crazy people have this kind of (short) attention span? I just want to watch (or play) something.

Posted by patrickklepek

you switch between the snapped and main windows by saying "Xbox - switch" or double tapping the guide button.

Oh, rad. Thanks! I wish the Kinect recognized natural language, and didn't rely so heavily on very specific rules. Maybe that will change. For example, when I tell my Xbox One to turn off with "yes," it cannot seem to interpret "yeah" or "yep" with any form of consistency.

Staff
Posted by steve2294

you switch between the snapped and main windows by saying "Xbox - switch" or double tapping the guide button.

Yes! This! On Twitter, Major Nelson linked to an image that showed all of the available voice commands, and the Xbox-Switch was one of them.

Edited by Sergotron

BEARS!!!

If they ever go ahead and go with either ESPN or Yahoo for Fantasy, it would be something I could possibly sell to other people.

Posted by RobotMafia

Nice writeup.

Posted by clarkj1981

All of that even before you consider that Microsoft is a shitty company.

Interesting point.

Posted by GreenAphid

Go Pack Go!

Edited by andyboy

@patrickklepek Not sure if Internet Explorer on my Xbox One is defaulting to HTML5, but I can stream videos as well as the podcast from Giantbomb.com with no issues. IE also plays MP3's by streaming them if you go to a site that has a link to the file and select it, it starts playing.

I know this is not ideal and a podcast app would be so much better than this, but this is a temp solution for the time being.

Edited by Jayzilla

super cool stuff that i am looking forward to. i am treating the xbone like skyrim: waiting for the kinks to be ironed out and for tons of user mods ( games in the case of the xbone).

Posted by RazielCuts

What a season, what a season.

Edited by CaptainSane

I guess I'm not really understanding the appeal of the NFL content, does it just involve "real time" fantasy scoring and game scores? As somebody who really likes watching football but doesn't really do the whole fantasy thing what's the draw? Seems to me that it doesn't do anything that Red Zone doesn't.

Edited by Hyuzen

@patrickklepek You talk about navigating the nfl app by saying "xbox page right" etc. If you're issuing those commands close, one after the other, then I'm pretty sure you don't need to keep starting the command with Xbox. When it says 'stop listening' that means its waiting for other commands, and you don't need to preface it with Xbox.

Posted by forteexe21

I'm satisfied with my TV's picture-in-picture.

Posted by mintyice

@patrickklepek do you have Direct TV redzone? I can't imagine watching football without it now.

Edited by patrickklepek

@andyboy said:

@patrickklepek Not sure if Internet Explorer on my Xbox One is defaulting to HTML5, but I can stream videos as well as the podcast from Giantbomb.com with no issues. IE also plays MP3's by streaming them if you go to a site that has a link to the file and select it, it starts playing.

I know this is not ideal and a podcast app would be so much better that this, but this is a temp solution for the time being.

Good call!

Staff
Edited by Thoseposers

the bears suck

Edited by rangers517

I watch live tv and football every week (usually watch Redzone at the times when the Jets aren't playing) . I'm also in a few nfl.com fantasy leagues. Still have zero interest in the Xbox One. Having my laptop open next to me makes the whole "take up a quarter of your tv screen with fantasy info" stuff completely useless to me.

I also think remote play is a better solution for wanting to watch tv while playing a game at the same time. Both things get their own screen with different volume controls, and if other people are there and don't want to watch your abomination of a tv screen with weird proportions they can do what they want with the TV,etc.

Edited by TheHBK

I think what we can learn from this is that some people just expect all new tech to work perfectly in the first try and also that people can sometimes be too dumb to recognize that not every piece of technology or added features have to be for you! so many yelling, "Oh but fuck TV! This thing won't have games!" This world and businesses do not revolve around you and your wants and needs. these are the same people who just want multiplayer games to be split screen or think thought that two analog sticks on a controller was overkill. What I am saying is, this shit can be awesome for some, ok for others and nothing for the rest. It is not crap, it just isn't for you. And that is ok.

Edited by ProfessorEss

I'm impressed with a lot of these features but being a Canadian without cable they either don't have much use for me or aren't available. It's cool to hear that it mostly works though, developers seeing it working in the other areas of the console may give them ideas or motivation to try using it in their games. I, unlike the majority it seems, very much like voice controls and have been using Kinect 1.0s for a while now - especially in Dance Central 3 and Skyrim where they are especially helpful and work especially well.

Maybe it's not everyone's cup of tea but I hope Kinect sticks around.

Posted by EXTomar

The "XBox switch" thing is one of the most useful features to go with this and is never actually told to the user.

Posted by csl316

Well, considering this was one of the worst weekends for Chicago sports in recent history, my Kinect experience would've been viewed from the worst perspective possible.

But I'm glad it's sort of ok?

Posted by MormonWarrior

"someone who finds themselves"

Um...are you multiple other people? How about "someone who finds himself" instead?

Edited by jarowdowsky
Posted by fisk0

"It felt kind of magical to be playing Ryse", I think MS and Crytek just found a box quote.

Posted by fisk0
Posted by dionysis

"Xbox switch" will toggle back and forth between the snapped window and the toggle window.

App efficiency is all over the map right now though. When I run FX Now or Fox Now in a snapped window the audio gets out of sync and seems to drop frames. Netflix, on the other hand, is totally smooth with no detectable impact on either it or the main game I'm playing. I'd like to see all of the video apps performing as well as Netflix.

I think some sort of automatic or user selectable option for audio prioritization should be a high priority update for the next patch. What I did to get around this was to just use the master audio level in Forza to quiet it down while leaving the video app at full volume. It worked pretty well and my girlfriend really enjoyed having some of her "background" shows (documentaries and sitcoms that are interesting, but not engrossing) playing in the snapped window while the game was playing.

Edited by jarowdowsky

@fisk0: Don't worry mate, you're not alone. Apparently no one at Microsoft UK does either ;)

Posted by Strife777

Have you tried seeing the difference in speed/convenience when it comes to using the controller vs your voice? It seems to me like a lot of the Kinect features (applies to PS camera as well) are just a cool tech showcase and are made much simpler by just using the gamepad.

Posted by dtremblay

Peyton Manning

Posted by Brendan
Edited by Jetlag

@patrickklepek: Have you considered doing a "TV show" podcast? Or, is there one I should already be following?

Posted by VarrosAnon

@patrickklepek The best way to listen to a podcast while playing a game is to put one earbud in (or one side of your headphones from your phone and turn down the volume on the TV (or mute it entirely.) It's gone to a point where I play most games that way and will either pause during the cutscenes or mindlessly cone through FIFA matches in career mode or single player races in Forza. Super-useful for review-grinding I bet. :)

Posted by SpecDotSign

I still think the Red Zone channel is a better alternative to the Fantasy Football stuff they have on the One.

Posted by Luigi01

Nice article, Patrick. This stuff definitely isn't for me, but I'm curious to see if you guys actually stick with it in the coming months.

Posted by JJWeatherman

"someone who finds themselves"

Um...are you multiple other people? How about "someone who finds himself" instead?

Oh shit, guys.

Oh shit.

Posted by bigstrat2003

Sullying the front page with the Bears. What has this site come to?

Go Pack go! (even though our season is pretty much in the toilet)

Posted by Zaxex

I don't have any horse in the Sony/Microsoft race. I hope for both to do well enough to drive competition and innovation. That said, I don't understand Microsoft's insistence on pushing voice controls. I don't want to talk to an inanimate device unless we're on Star Trek levels of voice technology. And even then, it would still be a little weird.

Maybe I'm just a grumpy old dinosaur.

It's undoubtedly a gimmick, but a few of its uses are actually useful. "Xbox on" is pretty great, and in several cases it's easier and quicker to say "Xbox go to ___" than to do it with the controller.

Some games use it well too, in Dead Rising 3, you can change whatever ridiculous clothing you're wearing back to the default by saying "change clothes" - which is a weird phrase in itself; nonetheless, it's instant and you can do whatever else with the controller as you speak - which is arguably better than going through menus to do so.

There are times it's beneficial to seem insane and talk to technology - I'd say it has potential at least.

Edited by ptys

There's no "I" in team scoops... well there is a "me"... I guess?..

Why gaming press keeps referring to this aggressively vocal minority of gaming is pretty boring, no one really cares either way.

Posted by Walreese55

Peyton. Peyton Manning.

Posted by PSNgamesun

To be honest I really don't care for kinect with all the tv stuff makes it even more fluffy. Till good games make use of it I'll buy into it since that's what I care about games.

Posted by RobertOrri

I don't watch much TV so all these DVR and cable box features that Microsoft are offering with the Xbox One are of no interest to me. Don't even get me started on sports...

Posted by Cold_Wolven

I don't watch much of my cable TV as it is but maybe having connected through the XB1 might motivate me more to see what's on if I'm already on the AV channel. My curiosity is whether it still keeps the cable's interface or if XB1 has it's own that might make it trickier to use.

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