Microsoft Announces Xbox Video, SmartGlass Improvements

Microsoft Announces Xbox Video, SmartGlass Improvements

One for now, one for later

This one is no April's Fool: Microsoft will finally improve its lackluster Xbox Video service to support an important feature that's been available from the competition for years. And its SmartGlass "second screen" experience for Xbox One is getting an interesting update too.

Let's look at Xbox Video first. I feel like I have some color to add here.

If you've ever purchased or rented a movie or TV show from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play or whatever, you know that most of these services offer a "view anywhere" type experience. For example, when I buy a movie from Amazon Instant Videos, I can view that movie on the web, on my PC (using some pretty terrible Amazon desktop software), on my Kindle HDX or on my iPad mini. This is easily understood.

Likewise, you may recall that I had purchased a Google Play version of the LG G Pad tablet, only to very recently decide to replace that with a non-Play version so I could use the microSD. In preparation for my current trip (to San Francisco for Build), however, I had rented a movie from Google Play and downloaded to the LG I was going to return to Google. Did I just lose out on $4? Nope: I simply "unpinned" the download from the old tablet and redownloaded it to the new one. I watched that movie on the plane ride here, and it worked great.

So what's my point? Until now, you couldn't do this with Xbox Video.

Yes, Xbox Video has long ostensibly offered a "view anywhere" type experience for purchased video content, though I've also argued against ever buying anything from this service because it's available on so few platforms and because Microsoft's usage rights are extremely restrictive and can expire, something I've never seen on Amazon, Apple or Google.

But this week, Xbox Video is improving. "Starting this week, you can rent (or buy) a movie on Xbox Video, begin watching on one screen, then pick-up right where you left off on another," Microsoft explains. "Perfect for movie junkies or anyone who loves marathon-watching TV shows, Xbox Video makes it easier than ever to watch whatever you like on Xbox One, Xbox 360, or Windows 8 ... Windows Phone 8 and are coming soon." (How about Android and iOS?)

It's not clear that Microsoft has cleared up the usage right issues, but be sure to pay attention if you do go through with any purchase, as there's some fine print. (Renting is obvious not as much of a concern.)

OK, how about SmartGlass?

The Xbox One SmartGlass apps for various smart phones and tablets were updated recently with support for new Xbox One experiences. But the bigger news is that Microsoft is testing some coming functionality with a select group of invite-only testers that will bring Xbox One's OneGuide to new markets and add OneGuide and universal remote support to SmartGlass.

Those testers will get:

Enhanced TV watching experience for users in Europe and Canada (already available in the U.S.), which has TV listings in OneGuide alongside Favorites and App Channels. To use this, you must have your TV connected to Xbox One via HDMI-in.

More control over Xbox One, their TV, and set-top box, including setting new recordings and watching recorded content from the DVR, using SmartGlass on a tablet or smart phone. Xbox SmartGlass also adds a cool new feature to show the most recently-watched channels.

New Kinect voice commands again in Europe and Canada (and again already available in the U.S.) which let you control your set-top box and other AV equipment.

Here are some shots of the universal remote functionality coming to Xbox One SmartGlass:

After getting feedback from the testers, Microsoft hopes to ship this new functionality publicly later in the year.

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