Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Console Post of the Week (your e-mail from last week)

Based on the e-mail I received after last week's console post, there appear to be two types of user response to the Xbox One:
1) The user for whom the forward-thinking features are so impressive that it's easy to overlook the rough edges in the experience.
2) The user for whom the rough edges ARE the experience.

Microsoft's problem is that category #2 was completely unnecessary. Even the users who are very high on the Xbox One acknowledge that it's a frequently ragged experience right now. Why has the "completion bar" for releasing $500 consumer electronics devices sunk so low?

Also, before we proceed, let me clarify what I meant when I said "convergence device". In my mind, that means some kind of living room set-top box that is used to control everything. I didn't mean a phone or a tablet or something like that.

Okay, let's look at your always excellent e-mail. First off, an e-mail from DQ XAML Advisor Scott Ray:
We've had our system since Day One and took it on the road over the holiday, below are some quick thoughts.
-To my daughter, the thing is truly magical.  She thinks of it as her friend now because it (usually) greets her with a big pink "Hello, ******" when she walks into the game room.  She waves and returns the greeting.  She's already shouting "Xbox, Record that" at things that don't record.  While she really liked some aspects of the Wii, its features never really led her to expect them with other things she used or did (however, she was much younger then too).
-I am amazed at the things that are completely missing (or wrong) from the OS/UI.  Things like showing how much charge is left on the controller, a setting for look stick inversion that is tied to your profile (like it was on the 360), tucking things like "Settings" away under the "Games & Apps" menu, turning things that should be baked into the OS into what appears to be just another application (Settings, Friends, Achievements, etc).
-The TV stuff is very cool, but I don't use it that much.  It is something that will be great for my daughter, as she can walk into the game room and say "Xbox, on" and (assuming it hears/understands her) it will fire up the TV, AV Receiver and then she can just tell the Xbox what she wants to do/see is a HUGE improvement over trying to show her how the AVR works or worry about leaving it in a state where she can easily get a game or something going - that is a HUGE, HUGE benefit.
-I seriously doubt that I will buy a disc based game for the system.  I'm not a trade in/resell guy on the 360 and I'm already ruined by the X1 so seamlessly switching between games and apps.  The downside for the discless approach is that if you have a shitty ISP, you will literally spend DAYS downloading a single game.  For example, I took the X1 to my mom's this weekend.  My brother and I were sitting around checking out games and he wanted to see what NBA2k14 looked like.  I told him I'd just buy it so we could spend most of Friday playing it (this was Thurs. night).  I bought it in the online store and it began the download/install process.  It didn't make it very far before we decided to go to bed.  When I got up around 8 hours later, it was at 20%!  We had the X1 on most of Friday and it was still chugging away at 35% when we checked up on it Friday night.  By the time I was packing it up to head out on Saturday morning, it was sitting at 65%.  Now, I have no idea what kind of internet service Mom has other than it is "DSL", but there's no way folks can have any reasonable level of experience on a connection like that.
-The cloud stuff for games like Forza is really, really cool.  Seeing people from your friends list racing you in an offline mode makes it much more interesting.

Scott's a good example of someone who has an even-handed evaluation--impressed, but wondering why so much of the experience is so sloppy. What he says about his daughter (who is entirely adorable--we've met her), though, is extremely interesting. For kids, using voice and the Kinect interface is something that's not nearly as alien to them as it might be for someone older. As long as it works, they'll incorporate it without question.

Now here's an example of extreme rough edges, from Andrew Rawnsley:
MS have devised a device with convergence as its key feature, but which can only ever work sensibly for a small portion of (primarily US-based) customers.

Let me explain.  Here in the UK, we have something called the Licence Fee - it’s government funding
for the BBC (and by extension, TV infrastructure).  It means we get approximately 100 channels of
TV for free, including high definition (1080i) channels.  All you need is a standard aerial socket on
your TV, provided it has a digital tuner.  Every TV sold since about 2000 has had a digital tuner, and
flat-panel TV uptake was massively faster here than in the US (you haven’t been able to buy a non-
LCD/plasma tv since 2000ish - funnily enough when digital tuners came in).

So, basically, most TV viewers here have a digital tuner in the TV which they use to watch TV.  This
can never work with Xbro, because it is an aerial feed directly into the TV.  To use Xbro, you’d need
a HDMI-equipped set top box.  Except that the only people who use set top boxes are people with
CRTs which don’t have HDMI ports by definition…  so neither to do the set top boxes.  Indeed, about
the only Freeview boxes with HDMI are PVR devices, but those are by no means “how people watch
TV” (typically people just look at recorded shows there, and watch live via aerial).

The caveat is that Sky satellite TV does use a set top box, and could be used with XBro, but neither
Sky nor Freeview are supported for TV services right now anyway….

But does that matter… we can feed in the set top boxes that we don’t have regardless, right?  Well,
someone at MS seems to have forgotten that Europe, Austalia and (I believe) Africa were PAL areas,
which means broadcast TV, even in HD is based on 50hz.  Xbro is a 60hz gaming device…. no, wait,
a 60hz convergence device….  What do Bro’s watch?  Sports, especially Football (soccer).  50hz to
60hz conversion results in judder on any kind of fast moving pans, for which football coverage is
the poster child.  In other words, Xbro makes your favourite TV look *worse* and more unpleasant.
That's before we even mention the slight softening of the image.

There’s no attempt to switch to 50hz when feeding in 50hz content (which PS3 did for old games).

Now, this isn’t just the way things work in the UK, but to a large degree across the whole of
Europe.  Cable services never made anything like the impact over here that they did in the US,
and many TVs even have built-in HD satellite receivers as well as DVB-T aerial feeds.  Indeed, my
last two Panasonic TVs both had this, so even satellite users don’t need a 3rd party device.

This stuff isn’t exactly complex to figure out.  A conversation between Redmond and any of its
international subsidiaries should have red-flagged this when the idea first came up.  

Like I said last week, ambitious devices are often cursed by their ambition. If Microsoft had taken the time to polish the interface and work all this crap out, I think most people would be wowed. Right now, though, they've created (unnecessarily) a divisive experience.

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