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Digital lifestyle from a dumb terminal? Not likely. (Xbox 360 annoyance #007)

Vladimir Cole

This annoyance comes to us via reader ChicagoOne, who sent us the following tip: "Come on Microsoft, you design the "standard" media format, but now the only way we can watch our WMV-HD flicks is to use a media center pc? My guess is the software is in the box, but we will have to pay for the right to pop in a disc later..."

ChicagoOne has pinpointed a very annoying aspect of the Xbox 360. We know that Microsoft needs to encourage people to buy Windows Media Center PCs. Someone, somewhere inside Microsoft is rewarded based on sales of this flavor of the Windows XP operating system and that certain someone successfully convinced or forced the Xbox 360 product team to cripple the functionality of the Xbox 360 to limit the threat to his product. We hate it when companies let internal politics compromise product design. That's precisely the problem with Sony's insistence with using UMD and Memory Sticks in the PSP when a standard technology would be far more customer-friendly (but simultaneously more threatening to Sony's non-gaming business units).

In essence, the Xbox 360 is a crippled digital media receiver (DMR) and as such, it's hardly the magical hub of the so-called "digital home" (a term that The Economist has called "marketing claptrap"). Instead of accepting a variety of streams from the full array of Windows-based devices, the Xbox 360 is only allowed to receive streams of music and photos from the laptop used to write this post because Windows XP Pro falls to the wrong manager's profit and loss statement.

How would we fix this annoyance? Update the Windows Media Connect software and the Xbox 360 so that streaming of WMV and other movie files is as easy as streaming MP3s or JPEGs. Without being privvy to internal company financials, we have no way of knowing just how much this would hurt the Windows Media Center product line, but the aggressive strategy appears to be working: Media Center PCs comprised 27.7 percent of desktop sales at retail in the United States in August 2005, according to eweek. Even a simple move like enabling video streaming to the Xbox 360 could significantly undercut a product line that Microsoft has invested many millions of dollars into.

That doesn�t mean we still can�t be annoyed by it, as gamers.

We understand that no product is perfect, but we challenge ourselves here at Joystiq to make sure that we don�t lose our ability to think critically about the products that we review. To fall in love with any product would be an unforgivable sin that would undermine the quality of the writing that we bring to you every day.

As much fun as we�re having with it right now, the Xbox 360 has some flaws and some issues that annoy us that we�re cataloging through a series of posts, one by one. Because our previous posts in this series really ruffled some fanboy feathers, we need to remind readers that Sony and Nintendo will each get the same treatment once we get our hands on their next-gen consoles.

Previously catalogued Xbox 360 annoyances: 001, 002, 003, 004, 005, 006.

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