Xbox Series X|S: Media Features

Posted on November 9, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, Music + Videos, Apple TV+, Disney+, Microsoft Movies & TV, Netflix, Spotify, YouTube with 29 Comments

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.

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Comments (29)

29 responses to “Xbox Series X|S: Media Features”

  1. beckoningeagle

    I have a Logitech Harmony that has never failed me to control everything. It takes a little bit of fiddling around to get it to work perfectly, but it does the ticket.

  2. kjb434

    Regarding media remotes, there are many Xbox One remotes by third parties are that much better than the Microsoft version.

    The Microsoft remote is missing the XYAB buttons that third part remotes add. For many apps on Xbox, you need those buttons for full functionality.

    As for the app switching, it appears it works similar to Xbox One. While not optimal, it is not unexpected.

  3. RonV42

    I use my Logitech remote on Xbox's for years and it works great. I have Amazon, Pluto, Vudu, Netflix, YouTube, Disney+, Tablo TV, and lots of others? Along with a Blu-ray UHD is a media device.

  4. christianwilson

    I would love to use the Xbox (One or Series) for all my living room media consumption. It would simplify my TV setup. My family is familiar with how to navigate an Amazon Fire TV stick, though, and the majority wins. The Xbox is used for games. The Fire stick is used for media.

  5. thretosix

    I used to have the original media remote pictured here. I think it got lost in the cracks of the couch never to be seen again. I did buy a Talon media remote but it was too busy for me. I was lucky enough to order the new media remote a while back and it is set to arrive today. Hopefully Fed Ex is competent enough to get my Series X delivered today, says it's out for delivery. They are 50/50 with my cat food orders.

  6. j5

    When I was single and then when I was married without children I had my Xbox and Nintendo GameCube connected to our living room TV. However now that we have children and the evolution of TVs into Smart TVs we don't have anything connected to our living room TV. The Xbox One's are connected to a game room/kids room TV and our oldest has his own in his room. But he has it connected to a monitor on his desk so it's more comfortable to play sitting at a chair and with a nice monitor versus a TV for the games. His 100% Gen Z and he just uses his TV for Netflix that's it. He doesn't like the idea of watching Netflix on his Xbox One because that's for gaming. And same for me when I play the Xbox One I go to the game room or sit at my office desk and play a PC game.

    I think it's good for Microsoft to keep a foot in the door in the streaming apps area because it's just a minimum feature now for anything that's a computer, gaming device or tablet. It's just expected and if a device doesn't support it then it's almost like it's not a very capable device, like a Tiger gaming device lol.

    I could see myself maybe connecting the Xbox (whatever gen) to our living room TV once the kids move out and are on their own. At least then my wife and I can still watch TV when we want and I can play a game but it'll be when we want to and not cut in by the kids.

    And yeah Paul you're right about the remote. That's another reason why my son doesn't want to use his Xbox to watch TV because "that's dumb!" in reference to using the controller for TV.

  7. sammyg

    I tried using a Xbox One X for a media device. The main reason was occasionally we would try to watch a DVD for some reason or another. The DVD player software was horrible with lots and lots of complaints, especially around HDMI voice sync. In the end I picked up a Sony BR player cheap and stuck to Apple TV for everything else.

  8. panjjj

    I am one that helps rationalize the Xbox purchase because of the included 4k bluray player (still best format for movies). I read that while Dolby Vision is supported for games and streaming in the Series X it does not include that support for the DVD player. Do you know if that is true? If so, that is annoying as so many new ultra 4k DVDs include that format. Problem with Xbox options is if I skip the DVD optioned Series X and go with the cheaper Series S and buy a stand alone 4k dvd player that supports all formats, as opposed to what Sony did with the PS5, I will give up some quality with games. Bummer.

  9. sledge

    Please clean that remote

  10. brothernod

    I cannot get past the idea that my Series X is going to make using my tv more annoying because it no longer turns the tv on automatically not has hdmi-in so I’ll have to go back to switching sources constantly.

    • cawoodstock

      In reply to brothernod:

      I'm right there with you. Still trying to figure this out as though I'm just missing the feature that will keep the current (efficient) status quo but unfortunately think it will make my set up more complicated.

  11. remc86007

    Beyond just having one device (my Xbox One X) being the simpler solution, it is also seems to just work better than the built in apps in my Sony television and ATT TV. It is a constant fight trying to get the TV's ARC to work with my receiver and explaining to my spouse why today the sound isn't coming from the speakers is harder than just telling her to use the Xbox for everything...because it always works.

  12. safesax2002

    I have the PDP Media Remote and it works great. The backlight even turns on when the remote is moved/picked up. Nice touch.

  13. ericpalms200

    Do you know if Dolby Vision is available for the blu-ray player on Series X?

    • thretosix

      In reply to ericpalms200:

      I tested it this morning before heading into work. Dolby Vision definitely doesn't work from a Blu-ray.

    • panjjj

      In reply to ericpalms200:

      I have read one article that the DVD player in the Series X does not support Dolby Vision, though it is, of course, supported in games and streaming apps. As one of the multitude who cannot order the Series X no matter how I have tried I can't confirm. Given today's experience was the same I have punted and purchased a mid-level Sony 4k DVD player that supports all formats. Annoying.

    • thretosix

      In reply to ericpalms200:

      I'm curious of this myself. I do have a Series X coming later and The Last Jedi 4K blu-ray I have is supposed to have Dolby Digital. Doesn't work on the One X. If I don't see a response by the time I'm able to test it, I'll come back and let you know. I do believe it has something to do with low latency Dolby Vision which is why it doesn't work with Blu-rays. It's kind of ridiculous paying hundreds of dollars for a Blu-ray player that support the full Dolby Vision bandwidth from Blu-rays. Not all Dolby Vision TVs support it either.

  14. scovious

    Until Xbox adds picture in picture for streaming apps like Netflix, Youtube, Disney+ and so on, maybe they should hold off on calling them optimized.

  15. gregsedwards

    FWIW, Xbox One is still a very capable all-in-one media solution in 2020. I don't use the cable TV pass-through stuff anymore, but it works great with Hulu and many other TV streaming services. It has all the popular apps. It integrates with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. It has a very capable internet browser and a decent all in one remote. OK, so the OG Xbox One doesn't do 4K, HDR, etc., but otherwise, it still checks all the boxes. It was almost a solid decade ahead of its time, and the rest of the industry has just finally caught up.

    And the reason you might want to use an Xbox to watch Netflix, et al, is simple: it's already there. Why have a bunch of different sticks/boxes, remotes, inputs, etc. to manage, when one box will do it all?

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to gregsedwards:

      Because every other box does it better? :)

      • gregsedwards

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Touché. Seriously though, one thing that Microsoft doesn't get nearly enough credit for is how thorough they've been with multiple user profiles and parental content controls. True most entertainment apps these days have some mechanism for implementing user profiles or parental controls, but with Xbox One, it's global. And if you're lucky enough to still have a Kinect, The system even knows when my kids are in the room and adjusts the content accordingly. That's absolutely stunning, even in 2020.

        • brothernod

          In reply to gregsedwards:

          After what 6 years, the multiple profiles are disappointingly half assed for media consumption. It STILL does not have a default profile in Netflix for each user you log in to. So all multiple users really brings to media consumption is letting you change the icon launching order.

          • gregsedwards

            In reply to brothernod:

            That has more to do with the Netflix app app then it does with the Xbox parental controls platform. The Netflix app works exactly like it does on just about every other platform, including Android. Because those other platforms lack any cohesive parental content controls, app makers like Netflix have just decided to build profile selection into the default experience. It's either that, or risk your kids browsing through your suggestions. It's actually gotten better in the last few months, because now Netflix allows you to PIN protect your profile. Apps like Hulu remember the previous user profile selection but don't provide any means to prevent curious kids from just choosing Mom and Dad's profile. That's where a cohesive system like Xbox + Kinect made a ton of sense. If the system detected the kid was signed in or even in the room, it would limit the content being shown based on the parental rating, not some arbitrary app profile.

  16. Jeremy Turnley

    Harmony remotes all work fine with the XBox as well.

    Honestly, it's pretty clear that from MS' perspective media integration on the XBox was a failure. It would not have been that hard or cost that much to bring along the HDMI in, but they chose not to, and the media apps have never really been as well thought out as even the apps built into the ones built into a cheap TV. When the new Google TV can offer far better experiences for $50, it's pretty obvious that they have not put in anything beyond the bare minimum of effort.

  17. davidl

    Is there a list of TV's that are certified for Xbox X|S? I'd like to know which TV's support the XBox's highest frame rate, HDR, Dolby Vision/Atmos, HDMI control, and any other features that would give you the best experience.

  18. glenn8878

    To use Xbox as a streaming platform is overkill especially since Roku and many televisions already have streaming for much less and you can use their remote. Xbox should instead offer a living room PC experience (Media Center) that Microsoft once offered in Windows 7, but abandoned. The previous problem was PC owners must purchase hardware accessories to make it work like tuners and remotes that attach to a PC that cost over $500 and configure them with additional software or not. It was ahead of it's time if you ignore that Windows Media was half baked. The PC configurations that were marketed as Media Center PCs were much more expensive and still inadequate. So here we are with Xbox facing the exact same problem.

    Microsoft should instead offer the Xbox as a cheap desktop computer in a new enclosure (Xbox PC Edition) with expansion slots. Then users can do whatever they want with it.

  19. dlambro

    I have an original XB1 that I use as my main media device, and I feel that it serves me quite well as a 3-in-1 device (media streamer, game console, and disc player). I control it with a Logitech Harmony remote.

    It may not be the slickest user experience compared to, say, a Roku or Fire TV, but it saves me a lot of space in my entertainment center, reduces cable clutter, and generally works pretty well. I've set up Movie, TV, and Music app groups my XB1 dashboard and have all my most frequently used apps readily accessible.

    I'd imagine the Series X | S would be similarly well suited for media.

    I'd even argue that Xbox has a significant leg up over devices like Roku and Amazon Fire TV lately, in the sense that the XB1 has received native app support from new streaming services more quickly. HBOMax and Peacock were available on XB1 when those services launched, while support for Roku and Fire TV got bogged down in negotiations. As far as I know, there's still no HBOMax app for Roku and Fire TV, and no Peacock app for Fire TV; you have to rely on workarounds.