I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but the future of television begins today. Or, at least it does if you believe Microsoft, who’s using the term to describe the new Xbox 360 upgrade that goes live today. The update brings live TV and expanded on-demand video selections to the gaming console, meaning that now you won’t need that little box beside your TV to watch HBO, Comedy Central and PBS anymore. Apparently, your viewing tastes are somewhat broad; well done, you.
Now, all you’ll need is that… other little box. Yeah, maybe it’s just me, but this particular future of television feels just a little familiar.
It’s possible that I’m setting my sights a little too high on this, of course. After all, the new Xbox 360 upgrade doesn’t just mean that your gaming system is also your cable box now. It also allows you to use Microsoft’s Bing search engine, share things online and control everything via voice or movement commands to your Kinect controller.
Which, let’s face it, is pretty cool… but, at the same time, it feels like a distraction from the fact that, in terms of streaming content, this isn’t much more than another chance to do the same old, same old. After all, the content partnerships Microsoft has for streaming television and on demand video aren’t anything new; in order to watch HBO content, you’ll still have to be an HBO subscriber—which, unless something changes in the next month before HBOGo gets added to Xbox 360, actually requires you to have a cable contract.
The same is true of Netflix and Hulu. This isn’t a case of “all of your media consolidated into one simple package and device” as much as it’s a case of “What if your computer looked and acted like your Xbox, but you had to use Bing instead of Google?” Somehow, that seems just a little less of a selling point than any talk about the “future of television.”
Mike McGuire, analyst and research VP at Gartner disagrees, telling the Hollywood Reporter that “it’s an evolutionary step for the larger ‘future of TV’ debate,” primarily because of the user experience interface:
Xbox-Kinect elevates the whole TV-interface experience to a new level…I think content companies are going to have the opportunity to develop some very interesting content experiences on top of the Kinect/Xbox Live foundation.
I’m unconvinced by this argument. It may represent a different way to get to the content, but the basics of television pretty much remain the same when compared with current digital methods of watching content, whether it’s on-demand services from cable providers, Roku boxes, Apple TVs or watching material online. Even the addition of live television, which feels like the biggest part of this particular change, really just means that your television is mimicking your cable box or satellite receiver.
The future of television is undoubtedly coming, when we can pick-and-choose which channels and/or programs we want and, more importantly, not have to pay for those we don’t want. And we’ll have all the boxes consolidated into the TV set itself–hey, Apple and Google TV, aren’t you supposed to be doing that already?
But this new Xbox 360 upgrade? It’s shiny and it’s fun, and the Kinect camera will be the Siri of remote controls for awhile (just like Kinect was for games, not too long ago). But it’s really just a nice package showcasing what’s already out there.
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Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.