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Xbox One TV Tuner review: Just short of over-the-air perfection

Jared Newman | May 27, 2015
When Microsoft launched the Xbox One in late 2013, the message to cord cutters was that they hardly mattered.

TV guide for freeloaders

Despite needing a few pieces of hardware to get started, the software pretty much sets itself up. Just choose "set up a TV tuner" in the Xbox One's TV app, enter your zip code, and the console will scan for channels. You can also choose to allot 4GB of hard drive space for pausing and rewinding live TV, and set up your TV to control volume and power with Kinect voice commands.

Once the setup is complete, watching over-the-air broadcasts feels sort of like watching a traditional pay-TV service. Pressing "X" brings up a grid-based OneGuide that shows up to 14 days of programming, and you can bring up a miniature version of the guide with the left stick.

The Xbox One also offers some unique channel-surfing features. Through OneGuide, you can view both regular channel listings and content previews from streaming apps, and you can mark your favorites from each for viewing in a single list. Nitpick number two: There's no way to create a watchlist or reminders for favorite shows or episodes. I also encountered some bugs with OneGuide, which periodically failed to launch with a button press.

For cord cutters only

The channel guide and time-shifting are useful, but what really sets the Xbox One apart is its ability to stream live video through Microsoft's SmartGlass app on phones, tablets, and Windows PCs. It's as simple as opening the app, picking a channel, and hitting the stream button.

In my experience, streaming worked remarkably well after a few seconds of buffering. Refresh rates aren't as high as they are directly through the console, but this is a minor issue that's mainly apparent with live sports. You're not limited to one device, either; I had three streams running at once, and the only consequence is reduced video quality as your network and the console run out of resources. You can even play a game or use another app on the console while streaming live TV through SmartGlass.

Streaming live TV does have one big limitation, however; because the Hauppauge tuner isn't a dual tuner, you can't watch separate channels on different devices. Changing the channel on the TV will change it on SmartGlass, and vice versa.

Waiting for DVR

The other major limitation with the Xbox One tuner is the lack of full DVR capabilities. Although the console can record up to 30 minutes of live programming for pausing and rewinding, there's no way to record entire shows for future viewing.

Rumor has it that Microsoft will bring DVR to the Xbox One later this year, but even if that happens, the current tuner won't be fully up to the task. Again, without a dual tuner, users won't be able to record shows from one channel while watching another.

 

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