The Xbox One, Microsoft’s new, multifaceted $499 console, aspires to be the home’s central entertainment hub, but several pieces of that strategy were missing when the device debuted last November.
Though the Xbox One at launch was capable of overlying Microsoft’s own OneGuide navigation system and “passing through” protected, live linear channels by tethering the console to an operator-supplied set-top box via a High Definition Multimedia Interface connection, it had no way of controlling the set-top DVR. That meant the device was hobbled in the sense that users would still have to manually toggle over to the DVR.
Microsoft aims to bridge that gap later this year with the release of a new version of its Smart- Glass app for tablets and smartphones that will double as a fancy remote control, share the look and feel of the OneGuide that runs on the Xbox One, and allow users to control the set-top’s DVR without switching inputs.
The new version of SmartGlass for Xbox One will also support a “Recent Channels” feature and give users the ability to switch on the TV independent of the rest of the system.
But most Xbox One owners won’t get their mitts on this new capability right away. Microsoft said a “small number” of Xbox Live members in select regions were identifi ed and invited to use an early preview version of the new SmartGlass app. The company declined to reveal how many people were invited, but did note that it will use this trial period to gather feedback that it can apply for the commercial launch of SmartGlass sometime later this year.
Microsoft plans to extend additional invitations “in the coming weeks,” and it will have testers on board in every market around the world where the Xbox One has launched, a spokesman said.
Microsoft has launched Xbox One in several markets, including the U.S., the U.K., Canada, France, Italy, Spain and Germany, and has sold more than 3.9 million units so far.
Even with the new DVR controller feature, the Xbox One still won’t provide all of the functions of a traditional set-top box, namely access to most pay TV operators’ VOD vaults. As with its work on the Xbox 360, Microsoft is looking to deal with that shortcoming on the Xbox One in the early going by integrating TV Everywhere applications from specifi c programmers and pay TV distributors.
Among recent examples, Starz and Epix are developing apps for the Xbox One that are expected to be ready later this year, joining TVE offerings from HBO, FX, and Fox. Verizon Communications, meanwhile, has already introduced a FiOS TV app for the new console that offers access to a subset of its live TV lineup.
Time Warner Cable has expressed interest in extending its TWC TV app to the Xbox One, but has not yet launched one for the new Microsoft console.
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