As we come to the rush of the gaming holiday season, a thought crossed my mind recently. Given the state of console gaming lately, I started to think about where we are in the Xbox 360’s life cycle, and how it, along with the PS3, has matured over the years. Plus, as per usual, many friends of mine, as well as friends or work associates of my wife, have come to me wondering what console should they buy for their kids or their family this year. One thing struck me right in the face, and that was how the Xbox 360 has matured into a Home Entertainment Console, and not just a gaming console.
Although I talk about the Xbox 360, as well as the PS3, in this editorial, I won’t be touching on the Wii or the Wii U. The Wii U has yet to launch and its’ full plans are unclear, and the original Wii’s lifecycle is about to end and it is far behind the Xbox 360 and PS3 in regards to what I wish to talk about here.
I remember when the original Xbox started offering online gameplay over a high-speed internet connection, I thought it was amazing and didn’t think it could any better. Boy was I ever wrong. Over the past few years Microsoft has taken the Xbox LIVE service, and the console as a whole, and developed it into one heck of an offering that, personally, I never dreamed could happen.
What I find ironic about this is that Sony, when they announced the PS3 during its inception, indicated that their then “next-generation” console would become the center of a families home entertainment with Blu-ray, online capabilities, and downloadable apps. Since the PS3 has launched they started off strong in this area as many people bought the console as an affordable Blu-ray player that was also a gaming machine; however, the there was not a lot of support for it in regards to becoming the home entertainment device that they promised. Sure, they added services early on like Netflix and MLB TV, and the PS Store game into fruition, with games and movies, but their online browser sucked, and there was no real “must have” app to make it that family entertainment device.
When looking at the PS3 at this current time, there is definitely some apps or services worth worth noting beyond what I have spoken about above. There is the NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL Gamecenter Live, SEC Digital Network (Collegiate Sports), Cruchyroll (Anime), Neon Alley (Anime), Crackle, Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited, You Tube, HULU, and Amazon Instant Video. These are definitely interesting to the general public. Oh, and not all of these are available in Canada We also can’t forget PlayStation Home either, where gamers go to “hang out”. This feature is like a social hub for PS3 gamers only. You can play mini-games, chat with other gamers, watch trailers, and even watch movies. The caveat though is that you have to use your PS3 to access it and only other PS3 users will be online with you.
When you look at everything that is offered, the PS3 definitely has some good services to expand it beyond the realm of gaming console, but in my opinion it does not fully deliver on what it promised so long ago, and that is being a central entertainment hub. What about social media, what about staying connected with others outside the PS3, and what about being that device where the whole family gets so much more?
This brings me to Microsoft and their Xbox 360, as this is the crux of this article. Over the past 3-4 years, they have stepped things up and taken a much more aggressive approach to becoming what Sony wanted to be. If you look at how Xbox LIVE has developed and changed over the years, and how Microsoft has continued to change and adapt the Xbox 360 Dashboard to suit the gamer and consumer as a whole, you can see how they want the Xbox 360 to become more then just a gaming console.
There are some similarities between the Xbox 360 and PS3 apps, such as You Tube, Netflix, Crackle, Amazon Instant Video, CinemaNow and MLB TV, and the Xbox LIVE Marketplace is somewhat akin to the PS Store given you can buy games; but when you dig deeper into the world of the Xbox 360 you will find that there is so much more that the general public can find, entertainment and social wise, that you may be quite surprised when you see it in writing.
In regards to the apps/services, you will find that there is a lot more available on the Xbox 360. Here is a list of many, but not all, that are offered in the US and Canada that you will most likely find in the Dashboard:
- Disney XD (Canada only at time of writing)
- Manga Entertainment
- Kinect National Geographic TV
- Kinect Sesame Street TV
- MSN Video
- NBC News (US Only)
- Fox Broadcast (US Only)
- Real Sports (Canada)
- Rogers on Demand (Canada)
- Optik TV (Canada)
- Vivo (music videos)
- Last FM
- HBO Go
There is also the Zune Marketplace (Music and Movies). It is noted that the Zune Marketplace is about to get a transformation to Xbox Video and Xbox Music. This change is going to happen soon and it will bring the service inline with Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8, and given what I have had the chance to check out to date, it is pretty slick indeed (I can’t say anything directly due to an NDA I signed allowing me to use the new dashboard over the last few months).
This list of current apps/services is amazing and much more then what you can get on the PS3. Oh, did I forget to mention there are so many other new apps/services yet to be launched? It is mind boggling to see what is in store for Xbox 360 users. The yet to be released apps/services are going to be launched within the next year or so and they will target many demographics of the family and what they may wish to watch or experience.
On the social side of things, Xbox LIVE supports Facebook and Twitter, two of the largest social media applications available today. And when I say Xbox 360 supports this, they don’t just tell users that “user A has played game X” or that “user B has unlocked achievement Y”. You can use the respective apps to surf your own Facebook page or check your twitter account. In regards to the Facebook app specifically, you can also surf your friends Facebook pages, find new Facebook friends, check out friends’ updates and you can post messages on your friends’ Facebook page. In regards to the Twitter app, not only can you surf your own Twitter page, but also you can post Tweets, and do everything else you do with Twitter, but from your Xbox. As for the PS3, there is no such social support of this level. Staying connected with people is important and in regards to the Xbox 360 anyone in the family can do it without the need for a PC, tablet or smartphone.
**UPDATE** – Since this article was published in early October, Microsoft has released the Fall 2012 Dashboard Update to the public. What is notably absent is the Facebook and Twitter apps. Microsoft has since chimed in and stated that there is no need for the apps anymore as you can access them through Internet Explorer, which is how many people do it on their computer. So fret not, the Xbox 360 is still social in this manner, just that you now do it through the Internet Browser, and not a direct app.
I also think that it is worth mentioning that you can use the Xbox 360 and Kinect to reach out to friends and family through video calls. Not all users have to have an Xbox 360, as you can video chat from the Xbox 360 to a PC/Mac using Microsoft’s Live Messenger service on the PC/Mac end of things. Let’s not forget that Microsoft bought Skype in 2011, so who knows what this means for the future, but for now, you can use your Kinect to video chat with other people on Live Messenger, and that is a lot of people as Live Messenger is on a lot of computers. And to those PS3 fans out there, yes, you can video chat PS3 to PS3, but that is it. Although lots of people have a PS3, it is not nearly as many as those with a PC/Mac and Live Messenger, which makes the Kinect/Messenger functionality more appealing and more accessible. Being able to keep in contact in this manner from your living room or family room is great, as you can sit on your couch and talk to friends or family who own an Xbox 360 and Kinect themselves, or if they prefer they can use their home PC/Mac and Live Messenger. Regardless, there is a lot of ways to reach out with a video call that originates from Microsoft’s console.
Many know that during E3 2012 Microsoft announced an upcoming version of Internet Explorer for the Xbox 360. I have had the opportunity to use this new app. Now, given that I signed an NDA as I have used the new dashboard for the past few months, I can’t say too much. But what I can say is that it is a very functional and reliable tool. When compared to Sony’s browser, the difference is night and day. You’ll find that you can indeed surf the Internet with your Xbox 360 readily and quite easily. Microsoft has a long history of web browsers, and who better to design and implement one for their own home console. And once again, you can do this from the comfort of your couch, on your TV, without having to go use a PC, laptop or tablet. Being able to check for information online using the Internet, while sitting on the couch with your kids, or other members of your family, is great.
Now, I have mentioned many apps/services, but I have not even touched on the functionality of the Xbox Kinect beyond that of video chat. Microsoft has been fine-tuning the Kinect experience to integrate it into all of what I mention above, including navigating the dashboard, using the apps/services, and using Internet Explorer. The focus is to make the whole experience user friendly without the need of a controller should you choose. This wildcard, so to speak, allows almost anyone in the family to use what is offered, without having to navigate the experience with a controller in one’s hand. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but given my time with it over the past year or so, it has gotten much better and helps to make the Xbox 360 more of a central tool for the living room or family room area.
We also can’t forget the upcoming integration of Smartglass, which allows smartphone and tablet users to integrate the Xbox experience with their own personal device. Smartphones and tablets are in every household and so many members of the family have one, or at least knows how to use one. Announced at E3 in June of this year, the possibilities are endless as they showed how users can use a tablet to control, and enhance, their use of Internet Explorer on the Xbox 360, and how anyone can watch movies from Xbox Video on their console, continue it on theirr smartphone or tablet, then if need be, finish it again on their console later on. We have yet to see the full implementation of Smartglass, but if the work that Microsoft has done making the Xbox 360 so adept at entertaining and not just gaming, then I can’t wait to see what Smartglass really has in store.
I am sure that this editorial is going to stir up the PS3 faithful, and I may even be labeled as an Xbox fanboy, but to that I say “whatever”. The facts are out there people, Microsoft has taken the Xbox 360 from gaming console to a Home Entertainment Console where the whole family can sit in their favourite room and watch movies (DVD or downloadable), watch You Tube, watch sports, watch cartoons, download music, video chat with friends from the console to PC, Facebook, tweet, and soon surf the web with ease. The Xbox 360 is truly a device that has become the central focus for entertainment in the living room or family room area. It is staggering to see what Microsoft has done to date, and what they have in store for more of these apps/services. I can only imagine how they will finish the Xbox 360’s lifecycle but until then, Microsoft’s console reigns supreme as the central Home Entertainment Console of this generation. Who knows what lies ahead for the Xbox 720, or whatever they call it.