Microsoft's Xbox Video app for Windows Phone 8 and 8.1 was updated this morning with performance improvements, better error messaging, and improved search results. This app isn't yet as critical, or terrible, as Xbox Music. But with a coming generation of Windows Phone-based mini-tablets it could prove to be more crucial to Microsoft's strategy of evolving the platform.
As I've noted in the past, I don't recommend purchasing movies, or creating a movie collection, with Xbox Video. But the service is OK for rentals on the go, with the understanding that the usage terms are worse than any other service (for example, two weeks to watch a rented video vs. four on iTunes). And you can of course watch your own videos as well.
The Windows Phone version of Xbox Video is generally even less interesting than the Windows or Xbox versions, if only because so few Windows Phone handsets are right-sized for watching movies or TV shows. But there are some exceptions: The Lumia 1520 (and 1320, which I don't have) are arguably big enough for enjoying videos on trips. And as I've been doing on this trip, you can also project an Xbox Video-based movie or TV show to a bigger HDTV screen using Miracast if you have a compatible device (like a modern Lumia).
Anyway. As far as the app for Windows Phone 8.x goes, it's been pretty decent all along. But the most recent version, which updates the version number to 184.108.40.206 on Windows Phone 8.0 and 220.127.116.11 on Windows Phone 8.1, makes the following changes:
Performance. App startup is faster, and it offers faster playback for streaming, downloaded and personal videos.
Better error messages. The error messages for geofencing and download limit issues are more informative. I was curious what that meant, but it's a hard thing to test. I assume geofencing references to international rights, i.e. the ability of the app to block video purchases that aren't licensed for the country you are currently within.
Improved search results. With no details about what makes them better, sorry.
In short, nothing major, though every improvement is appreciated. What I'm more concerned with is the underlying service. One thing I noticed while tooling around the new version of the app is that the movie "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is now available for purchase. On Windows, you can purchase it in HD or SD formats, as expected. But on Windows Phone, only the SD version is available. And since I'm viewing this on a 1080p-based Lumia 1520, that's disappointing. At the very least, give me the option to buy in HD and then watch in SD.