One of the biggest challenges facing cord cutters is that while there are lots of ways to get low-cost and even free video to replace cable organizing those options has never been easy.
Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has attempted to solve that by making its Xbox One console a hub for organizing programming of all types. The device has always made it relatively easy to switch between gaming, on-demand content apps, and pay television through a cable or satellite box.
Now, however, Microsoft is going a step further and partnering with an experienced industry leader to offer access to over-the-air television programming.
What is Microsoft doing?
The Windows-maker has partnered with Hauppauge, a 23-year veteran in the over-the-air TV space, to offer Xbox One users an easy way to get free television through their console. Microsoft explained the deal in a blog post.
Support for over-the-air TV on Xbox One means access to broadcast networks available in your area, like CBS, FOX, NBC, and PBS, with no subscription cost.
The company also pointed out that if you pair over-the-air TV with DISH Network's (NASDAQ:DISH) $20 a month Sling TV service, you would have access to both local networks and cable's most popular channels.
When paired with the recently released Sling TV, you can get all of those networks, plus ESPN, TNT, Disney Channel, Adult Swim, and more, live, on your Xbox One.
What Microsoft does not point out is that pairing OTA TV and Sling gives potential cord cutters an easy way to drop Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), AT&T (NYSE:T), Verizon (NYSE:VZ), DirecTV (NYSE:DTV.DL), or any other provider. Yes, expanded basic cable offers more channels than Sling TV plus OTA channels, but $20 a month is a lot less than the $64.41 the average American paid for cable as of 2013, according to the FCC.
By making switching from OTA channels to Sling (and other streaming services like Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) or Hulu Plus) closer to a traditional channel flipping experience Microsoft has turned Xbox One into a viable solution for cord cutters.
How it works?
Getting free OTA TV on an Xbox is not quite free as console owners will have to buy a tuner made by Hauppauge (the WinTV-955Q which sells for $79.99 at most retailers and an HDTV antenna ($24.99) for an Amazon Basics model). Microsoft does plan to bring that cost down a little bit as it said it "will be partnering with Hauppauge to release a lower cost version of this tuner, the Hauppauge TV Tuner for Xbox One, retailing for MSRP $59.99, and available to everyone in the U.S. and Canada," in the future.
Microsoft did caution is customers in the blog post that OTA offerings can vary greatly by market.
Every location is unique in terms of local terrain that may affect channel availability. Mohu, a top antenna brand, has a great resource for understanding your channel coverage and selecting an antenna that's right for you. Go to gomohu.com/xbox, enter your zip code, and you'll see which channels you're likely to get with one of Mohu's range of antennas.
Once an Xbox One owner decides to take the plunge and buy a Hauppauge tuner and an HDTV antenna, the process of using it to watch TV is pretty simple.
Once you have your tuner and antenna, connect your antenna to your tuner and plug the tuner into one of the USB ports on the back of your Xbox One. Follow the on-screen instructions to setup over-the-air TV and scan for channels.
Will it matter?
When Microsoft first launched the Xbox One the kickoff press conference focused largely on how he device works as an entertainment hub, not just a gaming machine. Consumers widely rejected that functionality though that may have been at least partly because it was heavily tied to the Kinect motion-sensor device.
Now, Microsoft has created a compelling package for cord cutters -- at least the ones who own or were on the fence about buying an Xbox One. With the console and the required add-ons, it's now possible to have a very cable-like experience without needing to pay for cable.
That's a huge plus which should win Xbox some converts and give some existing owners a reason to cancel their cable subscriptions.