Trying to Make the Case for Xbox Video

Posted on January 13, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Movies & TV with 0 Comments

Noting my support of Xbox Music, many have asked me whether I recommend Xbox Video as well. The simple answer is that Microsoft’s TV show and movie service doesn’t really measure up to the competition except in very basic ways. And if you intend to build a digital video collection for some reason, my advice is to turn elsewhere.

The issue comes down to both trust and usage.

The latter is a bit easier to explain. With Xbox Music, Microsoft is provided a modern, cloud-based take on the digital music service. This isn’t aimed at hard core digital hoarders who have spent years carefully ripping massive CD collections and then meticulously maintaining the meta-data in the resulting files, and managing that information as it moves from device to device. Instead, Xbox Music works like Spotify or Beats Music: Yes, you can bring your own music, but it’s really optimized for cloud-based streaming of Internet radio stations and playlists.

So let’s say you’ve spent time with Xbox Music. You purchased an Xbox Music Pass for $99.90 per year—about the same cost as a Spotify Premium account—and have added albums, artists and songs and radio stations to your cloud-based collection. And then everything comes to a crashing halt. Maybe you move from Windows Phone to Android, and don’t like the lackluster Xbox Music client on that platform. Heck, maybe Microsoft actually kills Xbox Music cold. Whatever the reason, what did you lose?

Not much, really. Nothing, arguably. And starting over on a rival music service really isn’t all that terrible. You’ll need to add music back to a cloud-based collection, of course, and figure out some radio station-type playlists that meet your needs, but nothing serious. You’ll just pay another company, access the new service through a new app on your phone, or perhaps a rich client or web client on your PC, and get on with life. No harm, no foul.

So what about Xbox Video?

Obviously, if all you’re going to do is rent movies, or even buy the occasional TV show for a single viewing, it doesn’t matter in the slightest which service you use. And Xbox Video may be on the devices you do use, so it makes sense to use this service accordingly. Maybe you have an Xbox 360 or Xbox One in the living room. Or you take a Surface Pro 3 on business trips and want to enjoy videos on plane rides or during free time in the hotel room. Xbox Video is obviously fine for that kind of thing, and it’s right there, waiting for you to use it.

But when it comes to actually purchasing videos—full-length movies or TV series seasons you intend to watch more than once—I find myself not trusting Xbox Video. This service has had a spotty record with pricing—which is often more expensive than on rival services—and, more egregiously, with availability of content. I’ve several purchased movies only to be told later than I can no longer access them unless I kept an offline copy somewhere because of some rights change. Too, there is no Xbox Video client on Android or iOS; you need a modern Windows or Windows Phone version, or Xbox. The point of a cloud service is that your content is always available, from any device. Xbox Video does not meet these needs.

So my advice is twofold.

First, don’t build a digital movie library. It’s expensive and semi-pointless, and unless you’re definitely going to watch the HD version of a movie more than three times, it rarely works out economically. The recent controversial film “The Interview,” for example, costs $5.99 to rent in HD on Xbox Video, and it’s $14.99 to buy. You would have to watch this movie three times to justify the ownership cost. And I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

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Second, if you absolutely must purchase digital videos, consider a more trustworthy and pervasive source like Amazon or Apple iTunes. Neither comes with a Windows Phone client, which may be an issue for a very small percentage of the general population (but a very big percentage of the people I care about most). But both are available broadly elsewhere, including on (big) Windows for PCs and tablets. I’ve never experienced the rights issues from Xbox Video on these services, which is notable. And let’s face it, Amazon and Apple have a much bigger stake in the content delivery world than does Microsoft. Can you really trust that the software giant won’t one day just give it up as a lost cause?

If this ever does happen, most Xbox Music users can easily move on. Xbox Video users, not so much.

As a guinea pig of sorts, I’ve purchased numerous movies and TV shows on a wide variety of services—Amazon, Apple, Google Play and Xbox Video—and I find that they all work well enough, with the big difference being availability of the services on certain device types. This may ultimately help make your decision, but remember that you don’t know where you or the industry will be in just a few years. Your money is best spent elsewhere, I think.