The Xbox Live TV fall update misses the mark: Pt. 2

Read part one here

Note: From reading comments from the first part of this series, I get the sense a good number of our readers see this update as work in progress and rightly so. What I have a problem with is that Microsoft had all the time since they announced the features earlier in the year so I expected a more polished product than what we got. What I’m also afraid of is that since they typically only release two major dashboard updates a year, a lot of the usability problems will take a long time before they are fixed. Lastly why did accessing the content users already own like movies, music and pictures not get a UI update to match the rest of the system?

For a device geared for multimedia consumption, users will find out that their local content stored on media servers or other computers are relegated to an archaic UI that hearkens back to the 90’s. Lets start with trying to play family video you may have stored on a PC in your house. Upon selecting the Video tab, you are taken into the “my video apps” screenlocal video 5

As a casual user this is confusing. The Zune Video only plays video purchased from the marketplace, Windows Media Center content from connected Windows 7 PCs and lastly, there is Video Player. This is what one will likely choose to accomplish the otherwise simple task. Here is what you see when you click on that tab

local video 1

Since I have my content on my Windows Home Server, that’s the option I chose. Take note of the dated interface. It has not changed much in years. Next are images of the next steps.

local video 2

local video 3

local video 4

As you can see, the UI leaves a lot to be desired. The refresh did nothing to make it user friendly or presentable.  Furthermore, since the Xbox only plays a limited number of video formats, here is what you get when an attempt is made to play an *.avi file.

local video 6

This is an internet connected device, yet the user is forced to go find a computer, smartphone or tablet, type in the URL and the error code to find the solution! I dutifully followed the instructions, went to the website on my computer and below is a screenshot of the results.

local video 8

An average user would have given up by now. I was only able to find the answer by typing the code in search engine box that led me to the Microsoft Forums page. It turns out the Xbox cannot play that file type even though Windows Media Player can do so!

How is it that an open source application like VLC player can play so many more video formats than the tech giant?

Since the dashboard update increased the level of voice and gesture recognition across the device, I tried to use it with the Video Player. Below is the is the screen I got.

local video 7

Moving on, now lets say you insert a DVD. Prior to the fall refresh, the open tray tab used to display the cover art of the movie indicating what was in the tray. Below is what you get now. A generic icon with text overlay.

local video 10

There is no indication as to what DVD is in the tray.The frustrating aspect of this is that Windows Media Center does a much better job and the experience should have been transferred over to the Xbox. Here is what WMC looks like when a disc is loaded.

wmc movie 3

The user is presented with a brief synopsis of the movie. Not only that, one can navigate horizontally for more options like, actions, similar movies, cast and crew, and reviews. The links on similar movies and cast and crew are clickable and lead to more information. Its very nicely thought out.

wmc movie 4

wmc movie 5

wmc movie 7

wmc movie 8

wmc movie 9

In order to get a somewhat feature rich experience with videos, you have to use the Zune Video option. Below is the screen you get

zune video 1

The tabs on the screen are self explanatory,

  • Picks for me (I have no idea what this is based on. Maybe purchase history)
  • Spotlight
  • Movies
  • TV
  • Video collection

The one puzzling tab is the video collection. Below are screenshot of what appears when that option is selected.zune video 3

zune video 2

The My Movies tab only consists of stuff you have purchased or rented from the Zune service. The user now has two segregated repositories with a differing UIs for accessing their content! Why not just unify the experiences under one umbrella? Zune Video, Video Player and WMC should all be a single UI.

Remember how Windows Media Center provides additional information when a DVD is inserted? On the Zune Video screen, one gets the added advantage of a preview trailer. There is also a related tab, extras and cast and crew.

zune video 4

What’s missing is the very important (in my opinion) review tab. Also, you cannot select any of the names on the cast and crew to view any other movies they have might starred in or get any biographical information. Windows Phone 7.5 does an excellent job with app extras and connects movies to the IMDB database. Why is the integration absent here? The little details like this that matter are sadly left out! As for the Movie and TV tabs, below is what you get.

zune video 5

zune video 6

My constant comparisons with WMC are used to illustrate the functionality of the software that would have been great on the Xbox and nothing to do with me expecting them to transfer that interface design to the console.

Last but not least, If you want to play your own movie library that you may amassed over the years, you more than likely will have to use the Windows Media Center app to get the full media rich experience. If they are located on server, which more than likely they will if you have a vast collection, it means the Xbox has to connect to a PC with WMC which in turn connects to a media server. The Xbox could access the the movies directly if they were encoded in a compatible format, but that would be through the barebones aforementioned Video player and you lose all the extra features like cover art, cast and crew related movies e.t.c.

That wraps up the Video section.

Stay tuned for part three.

  • Avatar Roku

    If it doesn’t require you to buy new content off XBL or have the ability to show you ads then Microsoft stopped working on it at least 4 years ago. MS is not going to improve the DVD playback or file streaming because they make no money off of those functions and the worse those experiences are the more likely you are to use Xbox Live instead. If those functions see any major improvements it will probably be the next version of Xbox.

    I’ve been buying a ton of HD movies off of Zune. Grabbed 1080p versions of Kill Bill 1&2 for 1200 points yesterday and the movies play on all Microsoft platforms. Just glad to see that Fox, Sony, Universal, Lionsgate, and Weinstein are now offering 1080p movies for purchase on Zune. If they can get Warner, Disney, and Paramount to sell HD movies I’ll be really happy.

    • Rush 24

      But don’t you think that is shooting themselves in the foot? Only a small percentage of people have bought their digital content off of Zune compared to iTunes and Amazon. Would it have killed them to unify the interface the way they have the Zune desktop app which shows both my collection and stuff from the marketplace under one UI?
      I think the fragmented approach that MS does its what turns people off from their products. They just seem to lack the “it just works” The moment an average user tries to play their content and goes through this mess, they will turn it off and go for an Apple TV instead. It may not have everything, but it works well for what it has.

      • Jimbob

        I like the new interface! I find it really easy to get around, I have the ability to stream love film movies (not the best selection but that’s not microsofts fault!) I can connect to wmc on my pc no problems and it plays everything fine! I dunno why everyone is moaning!

    • Terence Cassar

      Its great when you have access to the full library but not all regions get access to the content.  I would gladly buy from the Zune marketplace but none of the good content is availabile (from Malta here with a UK account)

  • the person

    so what you are saying is you really wish You could pull up all the metadata through Zune for your pirated content.  That would be stellar but its not gonna happen.  Loved your ‘family movie’ example…

    • Rush 24

      That is quite presumptuous make the accusation of piracy for content I already own. Apparently, if a person owns any digital content they must have stolen it right?
      Also the AVI file was from a point and shoot camera and Windows Media player payed it fine so it wasn’t anything exotic

      • Mark Firemoon

        Still, do you have the optional media pack from the marketplace?  I can play most every divX and xVid encoded avi file on my system.  I agree that a silverlight powered view of local content would be nice, but as another reader already commented, MS are only improving the streaming, trying to downplay the need for local content.

        With the latest updates to the Canadian Netflix library, I’m inclined to agree.

    • Mark Firemoon

      No, VLC dosn’t ‘ship with codecs’, nor does it use codecs installed on the system.
      Go read vlc FAQ to gain some insight.

  • yves707

    the new ui is a total mess. you are absolutly right that they should have sticked more to the media-center design. accessing content on the new dashboard takes hours. and it seems noone really did a usability test on the new ui… very sad….