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Your Xbox is becoming a media hub

Molly Wood Dec 6, 2011

Have you ever noticed that the name “Xbox” doesn’t contain any mention of video games? You can notice it in the PlayStation or even the Nintendo Wii (“whee!”) but the Xbox just has that X. The X calls to mind a variable, as in “insert anything you like here”. X could equal games, sure, but it could mean TV as well. 

TV is at the heart of the latest update to the Xbox Live. Under the program, which begins rolling out today, subscribers will be able to watch a variety of streaming cable channels and enjoy a library of TV content. It can work with voice commands and it has baked-in search capabilities through the Bing search engine. At a recent demonstration of the technology, the machine was able to look through mulitple libraries to pull up a variety of movies starring Sandra Bullock. Neat, right?

Well, let’s do a quick reality check. It’s not free, for one thing. The Xbox Live subscription will run you $60 a year and you don’t get any cable channels that you’re not already paying for through cable TV service. Add in a Netflix and/or Hulu Plus subscription and this TV habit is getting pretty expensive.

Amanda Lotz, a Communications professor at the University of Michigan, thinks this new Xbox option isn’t a game changer just yet. “It’s being somewhat touted as a replacement for set top box,” she says, “but it really is a set top box, it’s just owned by someone other than your cable or satellite provider.” A set top box that also plays Call of Duty.

As for who would want something like this, Lotz says, “The idea is that it will have a better interface than most cable providers currently offer through their boxes. You’ll be able to use the Bing search service to find shows, which is far superior than if you’ve clicked through the many menus from most standard cable boxes. “

Microsoft is making a big deal of this Xbox update, the ads say “your TV is becoming more amazing”. But Max Dawson, professor of Radio, TV, and Film at Northwestern University, says this has all the markings of a quagmire. “TV has been many a new media company’s Afghanistan,” he says. “Many a company has come into this territory with a lot of progressive ideas about integration, interactivity and multi-platform content availability only to run into the inertia that is the American television and film industries.”

Then there are the cable companies, those folks you pay that big check to every month. “While they’re eager to form strategic partnerships with innovative new companies,” says Dawson, “they are not necessarily working with the interests of seeing their primary business model, which is you paying lot of money for not only channels that you don’t want, but also hardware you probably don’t want — they’re not eager to see that go away anytime soon.”

Also in this program: MAMMOTHS ARE COMING BACK. Well, it looks possible anyway. Japanese researchers have found a mammoth bone in Siberia that contains intact DNA. The plan is to implant the genetic material in the egg cell of an elephant, grow the mammoth inside a mommy elephant, provide counseling to that elephant when the mammoth is born, and then have mammoths. And it might all happen within the next five years.

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