As the battle for supremacy continues to be waged in the mobile space, there is companion battle brewing in the background not garnering big headlines but I think just as important. By this I mean the living room. Cable companies have long held the monopoly as the main gateway by which consumers access TV programming but the landscape is on the verge of a major shift. For the longest time, consumers have been chained to expensive programming packages that contained a lot of programs they hardly watch and to make it worse, cable/satellite boxes usually contain some of the most antiquated user interfaces around.
All these are in the process of a transformation with the slow but maturing offerings of IPTV focused devices like Apple TV, Xbox+Mediaroom, Google TV, Boxee, Roku and more. Out of all these companies, I think Microsoft is the closest to bringing the living room to the age of the internet as you can see from the video above. Some of the features like the voice control and gestures are slated for the big Xbox refresh this fall.
A recent experience has led me to believe that Microsoft can/should take advantage of the Xbox platform and expand it further. I was at relativeâ€™s house and they had the little Apple TV box on top of their flat screen TV. He was using it to stream movies, TV shows and pushing content from his iPad and iPhone to the big screen. I know the Xbox is as capable of streaming shows as the the Apple TV and has other advantages when acting as a media extender with Windows Media Center. The problem is that it is a little too pricey and much bigger in size than the Apple TV. What if Microsoft came up with a little streamer around the size of the little box from Cupertino and called it Xbox TV?
I envision this coming in two versions. The Xbox TV and the Xbox TV pro. Both of these will share the same user interface as their big brother, the Xbox 360
The Xbox TV will be a pure streamer like the Apple TV with a price point of around $79-$99. The tech specs will include a Kinect port, Wi-Fi, gigabit Ethernet port, Bluetooth, HDMI and USB ports all powered by an ARM based processor like the NVidia Kal=El. Of course the box will also accept TV tuners for over the air TV via the USB ports or a network based tuner. The icing on the cake would be a slot on the box to add an optional 2.5 inch hard drive for DVR capabilities.
The Xbox TV pro will posses all the capabilities of the former but will be in a slightly larger form factor because it will house an optical drive. The option for replacing the drive with a Blu ray one would be great but that would have quite an impact on the price which I peg should be around the $130- $160 range. If the consumer choses to purchase either of this boxes bundled with the Kinect sensor, a discount could be applied.
Adding these boxes to the lineup gives consumers a great option for an enhanced TV experience at a reasonable price packaged in compact form factor especially for multiple TV households which are quite common today. It also gives Microsoft the presence at the low price points to compete effectively with Apple, Google, Boxee and Roku. Furthermore, these boxes would be more than capable of playing casual games that fit fit well with the family demographic opening up an even wider audience for developers to monetize their games.