Xbox 360 users are getting access to a trio of new subscription video services, with the debut of voice-controlled TV apps on the Microsoft game console for Comcast, HBO and MLB.TV -- no cable set-top required.
Last fall, Microsoft kicked off a concerted entertainment push, adding access to YouTube, Verizon FiOS TV, Epix, Vudu and other services through broadband-connected Xbox consoles. To access the expanded array of TV options, Xbox 360 users must subscribe to Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold service, which costs $60 per year.
Comcast -- marking the first time it is bringing video-on-demand services to a videogame console -- will let customers who take both Xfinity TV and Xfinity Internet to access movies, current TV shows and full seasons of older TV shows, including those in the new Streampix service.
The MSO's customers also can use the Kinect attachment for Xbox 360 to find programming and control the TV by speaking or waving their hand.
Public-interest groups have already complained that Comcast is not subjecting VOD viewed on Xbox toward its 250-Gigabyte monthly usage caps, whereas Internet-based video services are. The MSO says the cap doesn't apply in this case because the Xbox functions as another set-top and because the content does not traverse the public Internet.
Meanwhile, HBO Go provides more than 1,400 movies, TV shows and other programming through Xbox, searchable by voice commands via the Kinect attachment.
But it's not available through every affiliate: HBO Go on Xbox cannot be accessed by customers of Comcast, Time Warner Cable or Bright House Networks, which similarly do not provide access through the Roku set-top box or Samsung Smart TVs. (Comcast noted that its app for Xbox provides HBO VOD content.) The service is available on the game console to HBO subscribers with DirecTV, Dish Network, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, AT&T U-verse TV, Verizon FiOS TV, Cablevision Systems, WideOpenWest, Suddenlink Communications, Mediacom Communications, RCN, Massillon Cable, BendBroadband and others.
"HBO and Xbox is a marriage of the two preeminent brands in their respective fields," HBO senior vice president of consumer technology Otto Berkes said. "During my tenure at Microsoft, we always envisioned Xbox as an entertainment hub and the addition of HBO Go represents a coming of age for the platform. The experience is one that will impress both the HBO subscribers and the Xbox fans."
Finally, MLB.TV on Xbox Live provides access to 2,430 Major League Baseball games either live, on replay or in a condensed recap format. Users must purchase the MLB.TV Premium package, which costs $124.99 per year or $24.99 per month.
Users can pause and rewind games and highlights using voice and motion commands with Kinect. With MLB.TV on Xbox Live, users can choose between home and away broadcast feeds for every out-of-market regular-season game, where available. In addition, a subscriber can designate favorite teams so that their live games and recaps are accessible whenever they turn on their Xbox 360.
According to Microsoft, video and music consumption has surpassed multiplayer gaming usage on the Xbox Live service. Currently, Xbox Live Gold members in the U.S. spend an average of 84 hours a month on the service. Since December, when Microsoft began rolling out new entertainment apps on Xbox 360, total hours spent on Xbox Live (including online gaming) have grown 30% year over year