By BlazeHedgehog 9 Comments
(This could probably go on Tested, but nobody would read it if I posted it over there because I have zero followers on Tested.)
So I complained a lot about the new Xbox Dashboard update. I felt it emphasized advertising space too much over genuine features, and actively obscured certain functions, with a plethora of too many and often unorganized sub-categories. Some of you out there felt I was nitpicking or were otherwise incorrect, but the fact that there are still people out there who can't figure out where Xbox Originals or Indie Games went (to the point where somebody made a game about it) says it all, I think.
But I reserved my opinion for a lot of the 360's apps. I'd heard some people complain about the changes made to Netflix, but as somebody who doesn't use Netflix Instant a terribly large amount, I found the new Netflix app to be something of an improvement - it better exposes more information about what you want to watch, and brings up a lot of similar content to watch after you're finished with the current video. But what I was always excited about was the Youtube app. I spend a lot of time on Youtube - a worrying amount, infact. I'm subscribed to more than two hundred channels. When I want to watch a video while I do whatever, I can always find something on Youtube. The problem, of course, is running Youtube on the same monitor as where I'm doing everything else. I just can't do it. I'm always minimizing everything else to just watch Youtube.
If Youtube was on another screen in the same room, it would be a lot easier to multitask. This is technically something I already do; by way of a plugin for Firefox, I can download the MP4 source file from a Youtube video, throw it up on my network, and watch it through the Xbox 360 that way. A Youtube app would eliminate the middle man and save me some time and a little bit of HDD space.
I've been using the app for over a week now... or, at least, have been trying to use the app. The first thing about it I noticed, which won't be apparent by the above image taken from my capture card, is that all of the Xbox 360 video apps (Netflix, Youtube, The Today Show, etc.) all have slightly busted aspect ratio scaling. I have my Xbox setup with a D-SUB connector over VGA and the widescreen image seems to be incorrect scaled, giving the display a weird, somewhat smudged appearance. It's especially noticeable watching GiantBomb videos for the times when they bring up the Xbox dashboard on camera and everything looks squashed. This is a problem only limited to these video apps - games display at the correct aspect ratio, as does everything else about the dashboard. It only effects apps like Netflix and Youtube. In the long run you kind of end up getting used to it, but it's still something that shouldn't be happening.
The next major issue is how the Youtube app handles subscription content. As I said earlier, I am subscribed to well over 200 Youtube channels. Not all of them update regularly, and a pretty decent percentage of them haven't updated in more than 6 months. I keep them around anyway, because one day they might start posting videos again. On the Youtube website, managing such a large number of subscriptions is easy, thanks to a page that shows all of the most recent videos from your subscriptions grouped together in an easy-to-view grid. This makes it simple to get to what's new and watch it. On the Xbox Youtube App, trying to manage your subscriptions is pretty much worthless - you're simply presented with a jumbled list of Youtube channels you're subscribed to. Nothing anywhere in the interface tells you which channels have updated recently - only how many views their channel has, and how many videos they have uploaded - it's up to you to go through and manually check each and every channel individually for new videos. It's totally useless.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the number of subscriptions its willing to list cuts off at 100. If you have more than 100 Youtube subscriptions, you're out of luck. This wouldn't be a problem if the list sorted by date, as I'd be viewing content from the 100 most active channels I'm subscribed to. But it's not. It's not alphabetically sorted, it's not chronologically sorted - I don't know what criteria is used to figure out which channels make it in to the 100 I'm allowed to view, but I do know that it's annoying that there are some Youtube channels that are essentially gone forever.
Perhaps knowing ahead of time this would be a problem, Youtube implemented a fairly thick-headed solution in the form of the "Watch Later" playlist. "Watch Later" is like any other playlist, but it's meant to be accessible across multiple platforms and easy to get to, and I guess it is - to the point where you're given the option to add videos to the "Watch Later" list first, over other things like adding videos to favorites or other playlists. I decided to play along, and added 20-30 videos to "Watch Later" with the intent of letting them play on the Xbox. Unfortunately, this feature is a little bit broken. My first time trying to use it, for instance, was met with an error message from the Xbox that my "Watch Later" playlist was empty - when, obviously, I knew better. When the feature finally started working again, I discovered that all the videos I wanted to watch were suddenly buffering every 30 seconds, even though watching those exact same videos on my PC not even a few feet away was smooth and problem-free. Both systems are on the same router, both systems are using a wired connection, but for some reason, video constantly hitches up on the Xbox. And while not exactly a problem per-say, there is absolutely no way to manage the "Watch Later" playlist on the Xbox - even if you finish watching a given video, it'll stay on the "Watch Later" playlist indefinitely until you use a PC to manually edit and remove videos you've already seen.
Perhaps the worst part of this is that you can't complain to anybody in a position of authority about it; contacting Xbox Support about these issues simply results in them redirecting you to Youtube's community support forum, which may as well not even exist - it's hidden away in a part of Youtube that nobody ever visits, and almost nobody on the Youtube staff pays any attention to anything said there. The key word here is "Community" - it's basically a place for Youtube users to complain to each other and figure out solutions to the problems they're experiencing, because Youtube themselves certainly isn't going to do anything about it. It's a poor substitute for real customer service from a company that really wants to project itself as being "hands on" with their users (and is, instead, completely deaf to the majority of their complaints).
Of course, what is Microsoft's problem is the fact that Youtube, much like Netflix and Hulu, is exclusive to Xbox Live Gold users. While you can go on about adding value to Xbox Live Gold and whatnot, it's a serious issue when I'm in the middle of watching a video on my Xbox on the other screen, boot up a Games For Windows Live game on my PC, and get kicked out of the app on the Xbox because I can't be signed in to the same account on both the PC and the Xbox simultaneously. I have to choose - do I want online connectivity on my PC ( which some games can't function without), or do I want to keep watching video on my Xbox? The answer is that I shouldn't have to choose, and I should be able to do both at the same time. The only other solution is to create a PC-specific gamertag, but then we run in to the problem of a number of GFWL games being registered under the same Gamertag I have for Xbox Live and pretty soon we're talking an unnecessary headache over the crippling ineptitude that is Microsoft's handling of these kinds of issues.
If Microsoft really wants to sell the Xbox 360 as some kind of "set top box for all your entertainment media needs", these are the kinds of issues they are going to have to address as soon as possible, because the longer they wait, the harder it's going to be to change the system.