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Microsoft Just Made the Xbox 360 an Attractive Alternative to the Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) announced on Tuesday that it would allow owners of its Xbox 360 video game console to access entertainment apps without an Xbox Live Gold subscription. Previously, a Gold account had been required, making the console an impractical set-top box alternative.

But with that requirement removed, the Xbox 360 could become the go-to device of cord-cutters and Internet video streamers, an attractive alternative to Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) TV and Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) Fire TV.

Microsoft wins when it comes to app selection
When it comes to video streaming apps, Microsoft's Xbox 360 is far better than Apple TV or Amazon's Fire TV -- and it isn't even close. Apple TV has 33 third-party video apps; Amazon's Fire TV has about a dozen.

Microsoft's Xbox 360 has a whopping 68, including EPIX, Encore, Fox News, MTV, Redbox Instant, and Starz -- apps not available on Apple's and Amazon's devices. To be fair, there are a few apps that Microsoft's Xbox is lacking -- Amazon's Fire TV has Showtime Anytime, for example, while Apple TV has Bloomberg and The Weather Channel.

But, overall, Microsoft's console is the best choice for Internet video addicts looking for the most entertainment options.

The Xbox 360 has deep integration with Windows PCs
Microsoft's console also has the advantage when it comes to natively streaming local video files. With Play To, a feature built into the Xbox 360, owners can easily stream any audio or video files stored on Windows PCs connected to the same network.

Apple TV has something similar in Airplay, which allows owners of Macs, iPhones, and iPads to stream video files from their device to their Apple TV. Owners of Amazon's Fire TV can purchase the Plex app, which, in conjunction with a local PC running Plex Media Server, can accomplish something similar.

But for those who lack a dedicated iDevice or do not wish to purchase Plex, the Xbox 360 offers the best choice for streaming local content.

Apple and Amazon have one huge advantage
But Apple TV and Amazon's Fire TV have one huge advantage over the Xbox 360 -- at $99, they're less expensive than Microsoft's console. Microsoft's device retails for $179. If you're willing to buy refurbished, you can get it for $129.

The Xbox 360 sells with a wireless controller, which is perfectly fine for navigating the system, but if a traditional remote is preferred, a compatible one can be purchased for another $20.

Of course, that higher price tag comes with more features -- in addition to offering access to more streaming video content, Microsoft's Xbox 360 can, as it was originally designed to do, play video games. As the Xbox 360 is now nearly a decade old, its catalog of games includes hundreds of hit titles, many of which can be purchased for just a few dollars.

Amazon's Fire TV can also play video games, but to truly take advantage of the feature, you'll need to purchase Amazon's controller -- at $40, the combined combination of a Fire TV and controller is more expensive than a refurbished Xbox 360, while offering far fewer games.

Microsoft's set-top box
Unlike many of its rivals, including Apple and Amazon, Microsoft has not officially entered the set-top box market. But its announcement on Tuesday effectively puts it right in the thick of things. Without the need to have an active Xbox Live Gold subscription, an Xbox 360 is, in many ways, a superior alternative to traditional set-top boxes.

Microsoft has made the Xbox 360 a tool for cord-cutters
By making it an attractive set-top box alternative, Microsoft's Xbox 360 could help to facilitate the next great living room revolution. You know cable's going away. But do you know how to profit? There's $2.2 trillion out there to be had. Currently, cable grabs a big piece of it. That won't last. And when cable falters, three companies are poised to benefit. Click here for their names. Hint: They're not Netflix, Google, or Apple.


Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 17, 2014, at 1:47 PM, JJ82 wrote:

    No one is going to buy a 360 or One if they don't play one.

    If someone is looking to use just internet based apps they will either buy a Bluray player that is FAR CHEAPER or one of the many other media boxes that are.

    The very idea that anyone outside of Microsoft is pushing this insanity is amazing...MS is on planet Mars right now with this belief that their video game systems are something non-gamers are going to buy.

  • Report this Comment On May 17, 2014, at 5:19 PM, foot26 wrote:

    I knew people my parents age who bought PS3 just because it was a Blu ray player. It's not that far fetched that someone who is not a gamer would buy a 360 for media only..

  • Report this Comment On May 17, 2014, at 7:38 PM, moopert wrote:

    @foot26: at the time the PS3 was a cheaper alternative than a dedicated blue ray player and had added functionality.

    The notion that anyone would pay $180 for a 4GB 360 with no interest in the games is fairly absurd to me.

  • Report this Comment On May 17, 2014, at 10:05 PM, TYPEONEGATIVE wrote:

    I bought an Xbox 360 4 years ago. I've played it for a total of about 10 minutes.

    Who knew I had to pay extra for Gold. I can understand Gold for games, but not for something that was free on Wii and PS3.

    Meanwhile I bought a Roku and Chromecast. Both have way more apps/ uses, are small and take up little power, and are wifi, only the newest 360s have that.

    Xbox is too little too late.

  • Report this Comment On May 18, 2014, at 12:47 AM, fgains wrote:

    I have been integrating entertainment and advanced electronics systems for 12 years. I have installed somewhere around 10-15 Xbox One systems, some customers game some don't.

    The absolute fact is that when done right with a proper universal remote, the Xbox One offers the most fluid, integrated and elegant home entertainment experience available.

    As far as the 360, people leave out the fact that there are Time Warner, FiOS and U-verse apps available. I personally eliminated the need for an HD box saving me $12 a month or $144 a year. Not to mention it has a massive collection of games for casual users and children. Plus a DVD player.

    I would guess a bunch of folks would find great value in the 360 over an AppleTV

  • Report this Comment On May 18, 2014, at 1:36 AM, starpark88 wrote:

    Chromecast literally plays anything on your google chrome tab and has a few integrated apps as well. It's $35 ($25 on sale). My bet is on google taking the lead in set top box alternatives.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2014, at 10:33 AM, edgeofblade wrote:

    What a romantic notion. A eight year old gaming console with a checkered past of hardware stability standing up to cheaper, smaller, and more energy efficient streaming boxes.

    Hey, I love my multiple 360's, but I'm under no delusion that this changes the calculus for consumers looking for a set-top alternative. This change is FAR too late to make the kind of difference proposed by the Fool. I've paid for a Gold account because I game online, but I know this was a major block to wider adoption.

    360 was a game console first and a streaming box even later in life. Where Roku, AppleTV, and Fire TV made their point was by being streaming boxes. Even so, Fire TV has plenty of gaming capacity, but that's an after thought.

    I think this is the death knell for such attempts at converging widely divergent audiences. You can't balance gaming and video consumption to the point that you make it a must have for both sides. One WILL dominate over the other, and the more one dominates, the less the other will care.

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Sam Mattera

Sam has a love of all things finance. He writes about tech stocks and consumer goods.

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