I adore the new media applications on the Xbox 360 dashboard. I don’t mean I like them, find them useful or appreciate that they are there. I adore them.
Since December I think I’ve watched more live Barclay’s Premier League football than Howard Webb. Do you know how much I’d watched in the previous four years? Barely any. In fact, since television rights in the UK were monopolised by satellite TV, I’ve only ever seen live top flight football in a bar, surrounded by dribbling morons. Since December, I had a trial with SkyGo, and watched countless matches via my Xbox 360. It’s impressive too, the stream is mostly great quality and when it does suffer from bandwidth issues it generally only degrades for a few seconds and quickly sharpens itself up again.[drop2]It’s not just football, either. My wife watched several dreadful Christmas movies and we both loved the Treasure Island special that was on at the start of January. We’ve watched a couple of complete TV series thanks to the on-demand aspect too. It’s really a brilliant service if you’ve already got a healthy Sky subscription and want access from another room. But that’s the biggest problem too: Sky’s subscription fees are astronomical.
I’ve priced it up because I’d love to keep it after my trial runs out and even though I don’t want a dish on my house or a box under my television, it’s £40 every month. Is it worth that for a couple of movies I might have missed on their DVD release and seven or eight football matches a month? No, definitely not for me. If it was an extra streaming-only service, separated from the standard Sky services, available to Xbox 360 customers for a reduced fee then I’d definitely consider it. As it is, it’s over priced for those without an existing Sky subscription and of limited use to those with one.
There’s plenty for free on the relatively new dashboard that’s nice to have though. The MSN video app has some nice archived TV shows as well as the web clips and BlinkBox automatically adds free streaming options for the DVDs I buy in Tesco. Even YouTube and DailyMotion will have their appeal to those who engage in the online video communities more than I do. It’s all really quite brilliant.
My absolute favourite of the applications, though, is Netflix. I can’t overstate how much Netflix has enriched my life over the past few weeks. I injured my chest and back after Christmas and as a result I’ve spent a lot of time horizontal. For long periods of time, I haven’t even been able to use a laptop or play games because I couldn’t sit up and focus. But lie in bed and watch the whole run of Firefly over the course of two days? Yeah, I could do that.
I’ve watched several TV series and countless movies via Netflix over the past few weeks and it has all been absolutely flawless, HD quality instant streaming. It’s immeasurably better quality than my old LoveFilm subscription allowed me to view, so much so that I haven’t even bothered to activate the free trial I had to that streaming service.
Of course, the Netflix application also arrived on the PS3 and I have to admit, I think it has a slightly crisper picture and a much better user interface on that console. Unfortunately, it seems to have the odd problem streaming onto my PS3 through WiFi, even when the 360 streams flawlessly. So I’ve stuck with the 360 version at least until I can plug the PS3 in via Ethernet again and see if that fixes the buffering. It’s totally changed the role of the console for me in the past couple of months. Previously, I wouldn’t use the 360 for any media playback at all. The PS3 plays Blu-ray and does a better job of upscaling. But the 360’s streaming is, for me at least, undoubtedly more hassle-free. And streaming is how I’ve consumed almost all of the content I’ve made use of since Christmas.
It might sound over the top but the new video streaming applications – and especially Netflix – have really made the past few weeks of house-bound tedium much more bearable. There are times when I like nothing more than a long session with FIFA or whatever mindless shooter I’m playing through but there also are times when I don’t want to have to think or react. I just want to watch.