Because of the failure of its strategy to position Xbox One seven years ago as an all-in-one entertainment device, Microsoft is taking a different tack with Xbox Series X|S. But it shouldn’t be so gun shy: Sony is actively promoting the multimedia capabilities of its PlayStation 5 consoles and even has a new media remote. And the Xbox Series X and S are arguably the first Xbox consoles that are even remotely viable as living room streaming media set-top boxes.
As I’ve noted in the past, using an Xbox One of any kind to watch Netflix or Hulu is like driving an 18-wheeler to the McDonald’s drive-through when you’re in the mood for a snack: It’s the wrong tool for the job, an inefficient monster of a device that is optimized for playing high-speed 3D games. Why use such a thing when small, light, power-efficient, and inexpensive set-top boxes—Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku, whatever—are available and are better suited to such tasks?
Well, there are reasons, of course. Some people prefer to use a single device for everything TV-related, for example. And of course the Xbox One series of consoles had some useful entertainment features, like an HDMI-passthrough port, IR blasting capabilities, and optical audio, none of which are present in Xbox Series X|S.
So, the question almost asks itself: Are Microsoft’s newest consoles better attuned to the media and cord-cutting needs of 2020 than their predecessors?
The short answer is a solid maybe.
I know. But there are reasons to believe that things will get even better in the future, too.
Here’s the good news as it now stands: Both new consoles consume less power than any Xbox One, the Xbox Series S especially so. And that at least partially answers one concern, though neither will be as energy efficient as a standalone streamer like Roku or Fire TV.
The bad news? None of the current media apps—Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and the like—are optimized for the Xbox Series X|S, and that means that you can’t switch quickly between them. Instead, these apps look and work identically to how they do on Xbox One. And in some brief testing, switching between, say, Netflix and Hulu, was tedious: Each app starts as if it had never run before, so they’re slow to boot up and you don’t return to where you were.
Now, I’ve never heard about apps being optimized for the new consoles. (If you look at the announcements for Disney+ and Apple TV, for example, there’s no mention of this capability.) But I don’t see why they couldn’t be. And if they were, the entertainment experience on Xbox Series X|S would improve immeasurably.
Another issue is that Microsoft doesn’t offer a media remote for Xbox Series X|S. The old Xbox One Media Remote works fine, and I do have one. But it’s no longer offered for sale. And this is a really missing piece of the entertainment puzzle.
The good news on that front is that there are compatible remotes. Amazon sells a PDP Media Remote for Xbox, for example, and that looks like a solid choice. I’d test it, but it’s not available at the moment.
It’s also worth pointing out that entertainment content should look awesome on Xbox Series X|S, assuming you have a modern, full-featured TV. The new consoles support HDR content, of course, but also Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, both of which are supported on Netflix, Disney+, and other services.
Overall, the media experience on Xbox Series X|S is a work in progress, and while I still feel that dedicated media streamers are superior overall, either console should provide a reasonably good experience that, hopefully, will get even better over time.