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So, just before CES started there were rumors that we were gonna find out more about Microsoft's already long-rumored IPTV functionality and DVR functionality that would eventually come to the Xbox 360 system.
Now that the news is coming out on the system, all I can say is WHAT A FRIGGIN' JOKE.
I questioned all along how a box that has no built-in TV tuner or capture card functionality was going to be able to perform DVR functions, and the answers are what I suspected all along -- it won't. The Xbox 360 won't have the functions, at least not without hooking up to specific (Microsoft calls them "selected partners") vendor's add-on boxes that will live between the TV and the Xbox 360. Those boxes will perform some magic that is required for this to all come together. Uh, sounds like what those boxes will be are the TV tuners that aren't there otherwise. Sounds like those boxes could just as well be the DVR and IPTV boxes on their own, leaving the Xbox 360 as just another unnecessary piece of the equation.
Besides those issues though, there is the issue of disk storage. Since Microsoft was darned near brain dead when they decided on the original hard drive size and went with a pathetically small 20 gigabyte drive. While 20 gigabyte is plenty for the game saves and additional content that users may want to download onto their system, the sizes of the demo games, the videos and other content that can be downloaded via Xbox Live quickly eat up the 20 gigabytes of space and leaves nothing behind for TV recordings, especially not HiDef TV recordings (which definitely eat up disc space).
Microsoft apparently has an answer for the hard drive disk space coming in the form of a 120 gigabyte drive that will likely be the new standard when the mid-term refresh, i.e., version 2, codenamed Zephyr, Xbox 360 hits the streets. Supposedly the hard drive gets upgraded to the 120 gigabyte standard at that time which should open up some space for users to record a few shows (a pathetically few shows given the disk consumption for recording HiDef, but who knows, perhaps Microsoft has broken the laws of physics or at least the laws of compression and they'll find a way to squeeze HiDef content into smaller sizes when it's stored on the local system).
(More on Zephyr in just a bit, trying to stay somewhat on topic here).
Anyway, it seems that what could have been a killer component of Microsoft's dream system for our homes is instead just a big kludge. I don't blame them for not including HD-DVD drives in the boxes to begin with. Those drives really weren't ready for prime time when the 360 was on the drawing board. I don't fault them for not having HDMI support in the system from day one. Again, not really fleshed out yet, would have added a lot of costs to the system, etc. But... over time these add-ons that Microsoft is proposing make the entertainment hub less a hub and more something that is sitting with bunches of add-ons plugged into it. It'll become a rat's nest of wires and mass of modules that are all needed for some reason or another.
Where's the simplicity of a single console that does it all? Microsoft tried it previously with their former partner Dish Network and their Dish Players. They actually weren't that far off. That system played games (it had You Don't Know Jack, Doom and some other games on it) and worked fairly well as a DVR until code that was buggy just got to creaky to work with and the partners couldn't stop arguing amongst themselves enough to keep it all working properly.
They've shown that they can do some of these things, but they continue to do it in bits and pieces that never quite work right and require additional costs -- and bring additional frustrations -- for the users. Sorry, but I think personally I'm gonna sit this stuff out and wait until later.