When Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) first introduced the Xbox One, it actually presented the device as an entertainment hub more than it did as a games console. The new system was supposed to control your living room switching from gameplay to television viewing, apps, and even communication via the company's Skype platform.
That vision was abandoned somewhat quickly because much of the functionality was linked to use of the Kinect motion sensor. That device was built-in to the launch version of Xbox One and it was supposed to usher in a whole new way of watching TV, playing games, and consuming entertainment with Microsoft's new console at the center of it all.
Of course, as we all know now, consumers balked at the idea of spending $499 for Xbox One with Kinect when Sony's (NYSE:SNE) rival Playstation 4 retailed at $399 without any sort of motion sensing technology. This ultimately forced Microsoft to unbundle the Kinect and instead sell it as an add on while refocusing on the Xbox One as a games console.
That led to the company seeing a sales rebound and probably a few lessons learned. But now that the console is back on steady sales footing Microsoft has been building out its usefulness as an entertainment hub including a new offering which allows users to stream live, local TV without any sort of monthly subscription.
What is Microsoft doing?
Xbox One has always integrated seamlessly with cable and with apps including HBO GO, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), and Hulu Plus as well as the DISH Network(NASDAQ: DISH) Sling TV live streaming service. It's possible for customers to switch back and forth between those services and gameplay with an effort similar to changing a channel.
Cable and the apps listed above, however, are all pay offerings. Now, Microsoft has partnered with Hauppauge, "23-year veterans in the over-the-air TV space, to deliver one of the most asked for Live TV features on Xbox Feedback to our fans in the U.S. and Canada -- an over-the-air TV tuner," Microsoft wrote in a blog post. All Xbox One owners have to do is purchase a Hauppauge WinTV-955Q device, which retails for $79.99 and an HDTV antenna (which can be found for under $25 on Amazon) and they can access over-the-air networks through the Xbox.
The two companies also plan to release a lower cost version of the tuner, the Hauppauge TV Tuner for Xbox One, which will retail for $59.99.
"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," according to the Xbox blog post.
How it works
Microsoft makes it clear that this setup will only allow users to receive whatever over-the-air channels are available in their area. The company recommends using a resource maintained by Mohu, an antenna brand, GoMohu.com/xbox, to see what channels you are likely to receive in your zip code.
The company details the rest of the process on its blog:
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.
It's not hard and once you get hooked up, Microsoft packages whatever channels you get with a very cablelike interface called OneGuide.
The company also makes it seamless to switch from over-the-air TV to streaming services, games, or other content. In many ways Microsoft has created a cord-cutters package which integrates all the noncable options in a very user-friendly way.
Microsoft also offers a few other features designed to improve the viewing process:
- TV Viewing in Snap: Snapping TV allows you to watch TV on the right side of your screen and leave the main screen for games, Skype, or other applications.
- Pause Live TV: Need to take a break? Pause whatever you're watching and Xbox will cache for up to 30 minutes so you can catch up when you get back.
- Favorite Channels: Easily build your own customized OneGuide by marking channels as "favorites," so that you can easily see what's on the channels you care about and tune-in.
- Changing Channels by Voice with Kinect: The OneGuide allows you to set up and call out your favorite TV channel by name and start watching it instantly. Simply say, "Xbox, watch NBC" to quickly switch between channels.
Overall the Xbox One is attempting to give users a way to integrate content from a variety of sources with a minimal amount of fuss.
Cable companies should be afraid
One of the reasons some people have yet to cut the cord is that while tons of content is out there for less than than price of cable -- or even free -- it's all on separate platforms. Switching from watching Netflix on my Amazon Fire TV to watching cable or even an over-the-air antenna requires me using a second remote to switch the input source on my TV (a third remote if you count the cable one and the Fire one). It's not a seamless process and we (me especially) have become accustomed to TV watching that requires little effort.
This offer from Xbox One changes that and makes the process of watching any app or content source about the same as changing the channel. As this technology becomes more common, it should make cable less of a necessity.
Microsoft has solved a problem and cord cutters are likely to notice.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. He has an Xbox One but is not good at any games and rarely plays. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.