Microsoft’s new Xbox One S isn’t just the premier video game console. It also offers an elegant solution for living room entertainment, providing access to many popular services and capabilities.
For fans of Microsoft, it’s also the only reasonable way to access the software giant’s in-house services—Groove, Movies & TV, and OneDrive-based photos—in the living room, which makes it even more interesting. But as with its predecessors, there’s one obvious downside: The Xbox One S, which starts at $299 for a 512 GB model, and has $350 (1 TB) and $400 (2 TB) versions as well, is expensive. Especially in a world of $100-ish Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV competition.
And the expense doesn’t stop at the console. Anyone who chooses the Xbox One S as their living room media hub will want—perhaps need—two related hardware devices.
The first is an Xbox One Media Remote, which is currently $18 at Amazon. It debuted alongside the original Xbox One and is a stubbly little thing. But it works well, and is inexpensive. And the ability to pause media playback without waiting for a controller to wake up is more than a nicety.
The second is a Kinect, which costs $100, which and adds voice control, a feature I also consider a near-necessity in the living room. Yes, that’s a bit expense for a nicety, but it’s a transformative capability.
And since we’re piling on, consider going 4K/HDR alongside the Xbox One S. These technologies are equally transformative, and expensive, but well worth the cost if your goal is to consolidate around a single, future-proof solution.
Cost aside, the Xbox One S really does fit the bill. All the expected media apps are available, like Netflix and Hulu Plus, as are Microsoft’s apps, and capabilities that debuted in the original Xbox One, like the HDMI passthrough feature that lets you access live TV programming through the console. The integrated IR can be used to control other devices for a more integrated experience. And with HDHomeRun support, you can view your DVR-ed content on the console as well.
And don’t forget the Blu-ray player, which has been updated in the Xbox One S to include support for the 4K discs that just debuted this year. I’m not a big fan of optical media, but those who are can now purchase 4K Blu-ray movies and TV shows that offer UHD/4K resolutions of 3840 × 2160 at 60 FPs, compared to the 1920 × 1080 (also at 60 FPS) of Full HD, plus HDR. (Some Xbox One S media apps, like Netflix and Amazon Video, also support UHD/4K and HDR.)
The Xbox One S isn’t perfect, of course. In addition to the expense, it’s still a fairly big device when compared to a Roku or Apple TV. And unlike those silent devices, it has a fan that kicks up a bit of noise, especially when the console is enclosed. It’s not as bad the original Xbox One, but it’s there, and if you’re sensitive to noise, it’s something to know about.
You should also consider which services you want to access from the living room, and if you’re not a Microsoft-focused family, some of the missing bits may prove onerous and detract from the all-in-one promise. While video services are generally well represented, there’s no support for content from Apple iTunes or Google Play, for example. And on the music side, Spotify is not available, though iHeartRadio and Pandora are.
My own Xbox One S is moving into the living room along with a new UHD/4K/HDR TV—the Samsung UN55KS8000, if you’re curious, it’s currently on a $500 sale, so it’s only $1300 right now—and I’m curious to whether the family takes to the remote or voice control over time. I’ll make sure they know about both.