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Why I've Changed My Mind about Connecting My DVR to My Xbox One

By Will Smith

After giving it a second chance, Will has changed his opinion of the Xbox One's cable box integration, but is the benefit worth the power used?

I almost changed my mind about the watching TV using the Xbox One. After my initial testing last year, I didn’t think using the console to control my TV viewing was a good idea. Using the Xbox as an extremely limited universal remote wasn’t appealing, I already own a very good universal remote. The Xbox One TV experience is wrought with problems--having to use a game controller instead of my trusty remote to change channels was a drag, the Xbox didn’t have access to the commands needed to navigate the lists of shows recorded on my DVR, and using the voice controls to find or change channels was usually more frustrating than convenient. The limited functionality that Microsoft adds to TV viewing was disappointing, so I wasn’t planning on reconnecting the TiVo to the Xbox.

After talking to my wife, I decided to give it another try. She hated using the TiVo filtered through the Xbox, but she was into the voice controls. So when I hooked the Xbox back up, I made one important change. Instead of relying exclusively on the Xbox’s inadequate controls to work the TiVo, I left two separate control profiles setup to work with the Xbox on my Harmony remote. One profile keeps TiVo’s dedicated controls, and the other mimics the Xbox controller, for navigating Blu-ray menus, Netflix, and other apps. Instead of using the Xbox as the only remote for the DVR, I found it worked much better as a supplemental remote.

As far as I can tell, Microsoft hasn’t changed anything with the way the TV functionality works since the Xbox One’s launch, but my behavior has changed. I use the TiVo remote to navigate to whatever I want to watch, but if I need to pause, play, or even fast forward whlie I’m watching something I use the basic voice commands. “Xbox Pause” and “Xbox Play” are reliable and work well, even though using the voice commands for more complex tasks remains maddening. Using a voice command to watch Fox takes me to FoxSports, Fox News, or even FX as often as not. As a best case, the more complex commands take two or three tries to work properly, and I still can’t get to ESPN 2 without actually saying “Change to channel 730”. The voice wonkiness isn’t limited to TV viewing. While I can launch Netflix pretty reliably, I still have no idea what I need to say to get the Xbox to launch the Amazon Instant app.

The ability to pause whatever is playing, broadcast TV, streaming apps, or even discs, by saying “Xbox Pause” is handy enough that I find myself wishing I could use my voice to pause other devices.

Once everything was working, I realized that for the first time in more than a decade, one device handled most of the stuff I use my TV for. Using the Xbox One, I could watch streaming videos, screen a Blu-ray, play a game, and watch broadcast television. Convergence!

The benefit of having one device to rule them all is visible when I switch between apps, games, live TV, and Blu-ray movies using my voice. Although I still think that Microsoft’s app snapping isn’t a particularly effective way to multitask, I have even snapped a few football games while collecting shanties and plundering booty in Assassin’s Creed IV.

That’s not to say that I’d recommend buying an Xbox One if you haven’t already. While I can see the promise of a unified living room device, the experience today isn’t particularly good. I can’t access DVR functionality using the Xbox. The Blu-ray player loses audio/video sync when I watch most movies. For that matter, the Blu-ray player is still crashy. The platform is missing key apps that were present on the Xbox 360, like HBO Go and the Xfinity app. There’s no easy way to independently control audio volume of both streams when you have an app snapped. The multiplayer party system is a hot mess. There’s not even any way to check the battery remaining on your controller.

So am I going to leave the TiVo connected to the Xbox? Probably not. The biggest hurdle, at least for me, is the power consumption. When I pipe TV through the Xbox, it uses power any time I watch TV. How much power? It seems to average 75W-80W, which is less than the Xbox uses while playing a game (100-110W), but that doesn’t include the 70W or so that the TiVo uses. Essentially, using the Xbox One to watch TV doubles my power consumption, and all I get is the option to pause TV using my voice. That seems a bit much to me.

Right now, Microsoft is the only company with a product that unifies all the hardware that’s connected to my TV. If Microsoft takes advantage of the its lead, by fixing what’s broken and iterating more quickly than the typical annual Xbox OS release cycle, they could end up with a product that actually has something unique to offer. Whether they do or not, I’m looking forward to more and better voice control for my TV.