We called the Xbox One a work in progress in our initial review, and to its credit, Microsoft has been hard at work addressing various software shortcomings (party system, friend notifications, Twitch streaming and so much more) over the last few months. One aspect that's remained mostly the same since launch -- besides some tweaks and a remote control accessory -- is its unique HDMI-passthrough TV experience and that's getting some much-needed attention in a new update preview test. Microsoft may be focused on gaming under Phil Spencer, but a big part of its strategy to win there is by controlling input 1 on your HDTV, and making the Xbox One more useful in other ways than as a Titanfall machine could help. Check after the break for a video preview of the new features plus a few more details on what they can do, and which countries are getting access to more TV listings and voice controls.
For users in the preview group, their SmartGlass second-screen app on phones or tablets is ready to work as a universal remote control, with features similar to the app for Google TV. There's also a new DVR button so owners can watch recorded shows without grabbing the old cable remote, and it can bring the full OneGuide listing of live TV and streaming options to the second screen. Finally, SmartGlass is adding a "recent channels" layout (shown above) built just for the second screen, showing you what's on those stations now. Microsoft has already added a slew of gaming and messaging-related tweaks to SmartGlass recently, and it's also rolling out "rent once, play anywhere" for Xbox Video across TV, PC and phone.
Until now, the Xbox One's TV control features have been extremely focused on live TV (it already controls pause, fast-forward or rewind, but it just couldn't pull up the DVR menu) even though that's not how we watch these days. The DVR button seems like it should be compatible with most providers, but we don't have an official list yet, and at least right now there's no associated voice command. Also, the system still can't see what's recorded on your DVR or set up new recordings by itself, so there's still going to be some adjustment if you're switching back and forth between menus and remotes. Even when we've used the Xbox One's voice controls extensively, OneGuide has been tough to dive into because of what it lacks (DVR, cable video on-demand), so we'll need some hands-on time to see if this makes it worth using more.
Outside the US, Canada and several European countries including the UK, France and Germany will get new OneGuide and Kinect features. There Microsoft is adding live TV scheduling info to the OneGuide and Kinect voice commands to control set-top boxes and other home theater equipment (features that were already live in the US). We've been through the update preview process before so we're pretty familiar with how it works, but it sounds like this one may go on a bit longer than the others. The extra time will be used to get feedback from users on how well these new features are working before they roll out to everyone "later this year." Of course, if that extra time is used to add proper surround sound passthrough or Blu-ray 3D playback, then that would be cool too Microsoft.