Fighting for HDMI 1

Will next-gen consoles become the center of home entertainment?

I’ve previously discussed the idea of a converged media device and how the Xbox 360 is a candidate to become an all-in-one set-top box. Today, Microsoft releases the next-generation replacement for the 360, the Xbox One. Aside from its gaming prowess, one feature that I’m particularly interested in is the HDMI-In feed. The HDMI-In port is intended for users to connect to their set-top box, allowing the Xbox One console to overlay items such as notifications on top of existing programming.

This is a handy feature for gamers who want to be on top of their profiles. But for service providers, this piggybacking could open up another front in the war for the HDMI 1, which is the input that receives the most views. Piggybacking might even be the correct term here — the console actually does not simply let the set-top box pass through. Instead of tapping the input button on the TV remote, users must launch an app on the console. This is akin to a takeover. Microsoft intends for the console to be front and center of the entertainment stack.

There is a sound advantage for end users. One device typically means one controller. And the Xbox One’s other value proposition is that you can install apps like Netflix and Skype, enabling it to become an OTT device. For providers, the console poses a threat by putting these apps ahead of live programming. The cable TV is just like another app now — if a user doesn’t use an app very often, they may uninstall it.

However, the Xbox One is not a perfect machine. Switching inputs is still easier than finding and launching an app. It only has basic integration with set-top boxes. For example, it can’t perform certain tasks like controlling the DVR or accessing on-demand programming. Given the fragmented state of custom firmware and set-top box models, it will be tough for Microsoft to achieve an acceptable compatibility rate. So in the end, users may end up frustrated and skip the HDMI-In feed altogether.

But like the OTT monster, service providers must keep tabs on development here. The Xbox One has all the bleeding edge pains you can imagine, but it is also a work in progress. Not only will the gaming experience get better as the product matures, but so will the apps and firmware. Even though flat screens now come with multiple HDMI ports, it’s becoming increasingly important to be the king of the first port.

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