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Windows 8 Feature Focus: Xbox Companion (App Preview)

The Xbox Companion app, available now in preview form in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, provides an integration point with Microsoft’s best-selling video game console and entertainment device. Similar to the Xbox Companion app for Windows Phone, this new Metro-style app lets you browse and interact with content in Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE-based online markets.

This will likely be confusing to those who only think about the Xbox 360 as a video game console. But with more and more people using the device as a living room-based entertainment hub, the Xbox Companion app lets you control the Xbox 360’s non-gaming experiences using a PC or, more likely, Windows-based tablet.

Interestingly, other Metro-styled apps like Xbox LIVE Games can trigger Xbox Companion, but you can also run it independently. When you do, you’re presented with a typical Metro-styled, landscape-oriented experience that scrolls to right (and, like Xbox LIVE Games, to the left as well).


Before using the app, however, you’ll need to configure your Xbox 360 console to work with Xbox Companion. To do so, from the Xbox Dashboard, navigate to Settings, System, Console Settings, and then Xbox Companion. There, change the setting from Unavailable to Available. Then you can run Xbox Companion on your Windows 8-based PC or device.

Xbox Companion provides the following top-level groups:

Bing search. Hidden off to the left of the default main view, Bing search works much like the Bing screen on the Xbox 360 Dashboard, letting you search for content in Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE-based stores. This can include videos (TV shows and movies, including actors and the like), music, and games.


Type a search like Harrison Ford, for example, and you’ll see a results screen like that below that is divided between the content types (videos, games, music).


Search results expand inline like so many other Metro-style experiences, providing options like Play on Xbox, Details, Play Trailer, Series Details, and so on, which will of course vary by content type. Since the point of this app is to act, literally, as a companion for your Xbox, the assumption here is that you’re sitting in front of your Xbox 360 and HDTV and using a Windows 8 device as a large, intelligent remote, looking for content that you’ll then “play to” (or “play on”) the console (and thus to your HDTV and/or home theater system).


Quickplay. This default group works as it does in other marketplace-based Metro-style apps, like Windows Store, Music, and Video, providing a place for Microsoft to promote whatever’s new and interesting now.

Videos/Games/Music. This compound group provides a front end to the Xbox 360’s Video, Xbox LIVE Games and Music apps, respectively, which each plug into Microsoft’s online store backend in some way. Each provides a small handful of promoted content, but really these groups are there just so you can link to the correct apps and continue browsing. Eventually, of course, you’ll find some content that you wish to play on/to the Xbox 360; when you do, the Xbox Companion app will be invoked from those apps.


This latter bit of functionality is, of course, the real point of the Xbox Companion app. Eventually, you’re going to come across some content related to music, a game, a TV show, or a movie that you will want to play on the Xbox 360 console. And while the experience differs slightly from content type to content type, in general the effect is the same: You click the Play on Xbox button and Xbox Companion connects to your console, after asking if you mind interrupting your current (Xbox 360) session if you’re currently running an app or game on the console.


When this happens, the Xbox Companion app switches to a full-screen display which will presumably be more interactive and interesting by launch.


The Xbox Controls button triggers a new mode where the app (and thus your device) can function as a basic controller, letting you navigate through menus using sliding gestures and tap on virtual buttons to make selections. It’s not obvious, but you can also tap on the middle of the screen to emulate the green “A” button. (You can’t play games with this virtual controller as it emulates a handful of buttons and some simple navigation controls.)


With the Xbox 360 being used more and more for entertainment experiences of all kinds, Xbox Companion is a great way to interact with that content on the console, and to find games, videos, music, and more. Hopefully, it gets a bit more fleshed out in the near future.

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