What Microsoft can do to really dominate the living room

Today’s Forbes article titled “Microsoft Xbox Is Winning The Living Room War. Here’s Why.”  talks about Microsoft striving for dominance in home entertainment:

Plenty of companies do sell rival boxes to deliver online video to the TV: Cisco, Google, Apple, TiVo, Sony, Roku. But none of them does what Xbox can do. Because it was born to play games, has the hands-free Kinect controller and sports a hefty hard drive, the Xbox is the strongest player in interactive television. Forrester analyst James McQuivey says that only about half of the people who rush out to get Net-connected TVs even bother to connect them to the Internet at all. In fact, Ballmer is working to persuade the big pay-TV players—Comcast and Verizon are already Xbox partners—to allow their customers the choice of an Xbox over a cable set-top.

MS CEO Steve Ballmer believes we only need one device:

“Will a TV need both boxes? No,” says Ballmer. “We ought to be able to relieve the world of the expense of having a set-top box. … There’s no economic value in having two boxes that do the same thing.”

I believe Xbox is a fantastic gaming platform.   But I also think it’s not yet ready to become an “always on” hub for home entertainment.  The Xbox 360 doesn’t work well for a more passive (e.g. watching a movie, listening to a radio channel, letting a photo slideshow play in the background, etc) kind of experience, and the reasons are simple:

  • Noise. Even the latest (slim) version of the console is still not silent. Especially when there’s a disc in the drive.  Or when the cooling fans kick in.  For a device to be always on in my living room, it would need to be completely quiet, like Roku, for example.  AnandTech measured the noise levels a while back:

    Sound Comparison
      Xbox 360 Slim (Valhalla) Xbox 360 Late 2008 – 2010 (Jasper)
    Idle 45 dB(A) 50 dB(A)
    Load (Spinning Disc) 51 dB(A) 54 dB(A)


  • Power. Xbox is a high-performance platform, and that comes at a price. It idles (e.g. Dashboard) at 70 watts. By comparison, even when playing an HD movie, the Roku 2 players consume between 1 and 2 watts of power.

I am sure this is something Microsoft can solve in future versions.  Until then, my Xbox 360 is in standby mode, and my HD video is streaming through Roku 2.

by Michael Alatortsev

Technologist, parallel entrepreneur. Interests: travel, photography, big data, analytics, predictive modeling.

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