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Xbox One Is Still Stuck in Cable’s Orbit

Microsoft’s new console can’t deliver without a little help from pay TV

The “one” in the name Xbox One is a little misleading when it comes to watching live TV through Microsoft’s new videogame console.

Though the device is being touted as an all-entertainment hub, accessing channels on it still requires a settop box from a pay-TV provider.

The HDMI cord still required to connect the two boxes is the compromise Microsoft had to make in order to take its baby step toward revolutionizing how consumers interact with content.

Through Microsoft’s OneGuide, the Xbox One cleanly and cleverly organizes series from broadcast and cable networks, as well as the streaming content provided via entertainment apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon and Machinima. Like the new Windows, the OneGuide is a piece of software that lays on top of another — in this case, the often frustratingly slow and confusing onscreen listings of TV shows offered by most pay-TV providers.

OneGuide is smart and it works. But what it doesn’t do also stands out: The Xbox One can’t access shows stored on a DVR, nor can it tell the other set-top box to record them.

That’s still coming, Microsoft engineers and its software partners say. But for now, the Xbox team wanted to eliminate one pesky issue: the need to change inputs on a remote control or TV set in order to switch from a game to a TV show. Microsoft’s Jose Pinero says that inconvenience is “one of the ultimate enemies of gamers.” And while the assessment may be a bit extreme, having to change inputs is a nuisance.

So Xbox One now enables a gamer to play Electronic Arts’ “Madden NFL” franchise while watching ABC’s “Monday Night Football” at the same time. It also lets a viewer switch from a game to a show in an instant by saying, for instance, “Xbox, Watch NBC” (music to that network’s ears).

That should have a ratings-obsessed Hollywood cheering on the sidelines — as well as marketers, who have long lost the attention of the lucrative male market to games.

For those who expected something more, Microsoft never promised to replace the common set-top box. That was a hopeful notion dreamt up by others. But it’s not a crazy idea, either — one that the pay-TV community should strongly consider as it continues to lose subscribers and wonder what it’s doing wrong.

What that community has done right is to begrudgingly allow Xbox One to repackage its programs for its paying customers in a better way. Now the company needs to take the next step and hand over the job of building hardware to Microsoft as well.

Pay-TV providers have long lamented having to build boxes that wind up becoming expensive doorstops within a year or two, costing companies a lot of money.

But they’re also worried they might lose more subscribers to digital platforms. Here’s a reminder for them: They already are, especially younger consumers looking to binge-watch old seasons of “Breaking Bad.”

The industry needs to realize that Microsoft is making an effort to play nice the way rival Sony isn’t. In fact, Sony is also considering ways to create a competitor to cable and satellite services by developing its own Internet-delivered TV service.

While PS4 has targeted the hardcore gamer from the start, Microsoft has sought to make Xbox One appeal to everyone from the start.

Xbox One already is changing the game, with its ability to let players record, edit and share their experiences and even broadcast live gameplay through the console.

Now it’s pay-TV’s turn to innovate and cut its own cord. As long as the other black box in the living room is around, the revolution will remain an evolution, and Xbox One — at least when it comes to watching live TV — will be box No. 2.

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