The Battle for your Living Room Has Begun: Guess Which Company is Winning the War?

While everyone has been talking about how much the internet has grown and what effect it’s had on our daily lives, the expanded bandwidth has affected much more than simply our computing; it has enhanced every “connected” product on the market–and perhaps no sector more profoundly than digital media streaming. While the transition from traditional broadcasting (OTA antennas and underground cable) to more modern methods (satellite and fiber optics ) was a long time in the making, the more recent transition to internet-based media delivery has accelerated at a far more rapid pace–and is also far more confusing to consumers. So what’s the best solution for mainstreaming digital content into your living room or family room? If you listen to the folks at Google, it would be through one of their connected televisions or set-top boxes, while the folks over at Apple have their own solution in the elegant and intuitive Apple TV; yet neither of these solutions come close to what Microsoft now offers–and it’s been staring you right in the face for years…

When Microsoft first introduced the original Xbox a little more than a decade ago, they were very careful in their marketing campaign; having the reputation they had in the PC world was both a blessing and a curse–and if they were to be taken seriously in the console gaming world, Microsoft had to prove to its potential audience that they were not going to use the Xbox simply as a vehicle to port their vast collection of PC titles to console gamers. In fact, Microsoft went so far as to distance itself from some of its very best PC titles in order to achieve this, which is why to this day you haven’t seen a Microsoft Flight Simulator for the Xbox 360. My point is, in order to make a splash, Microsoft had to be keenly aware of perception and build a user base from the ground up focusing on console games.

But you see, the folks in Redmond are a clever bunch; and though they did focus on building an excellent gaming console, the truly brilliant stroke had nothing to do with the games themselves, and everything to do with how gamers connected with each other–and so, Xbox LIVE was born. Though Xbox LIVE was groundbreaking (allowing gamers to have online identities with gamertags, track in-game achievements, chat and play online), its true genius was not only in how well it worked, but in the potential it offered. As LIVE’s user base grew, so did its feature set–expanding to offer downloadable games, music, television and films; and while Apple and Google were vying for a space in your entertainment center, the Xbox was already there. Much like the guy in high school who was content with being “just friends,” the Xbox hung in there; and the longer it was around and the more we relied on it, the more the way we looked at it started to change…

With Xbox LIVE’s latest Dashboard update, Microsoft’s “gaming console” has become so much more; in addition to offering its own downloadable media for purchase or rent through its Zune service and apps for Hulu Plus and Netflix, Microsoft has also expanded its IPTV offerings, with new channels and services planned for release well into next year. There’s also the expanded role Microsoft has given their Kinect peripheral; even if you have no desire to use the Kinect for its motion control abilities while gaming (which work surprisingly well), this latest update allows voice and motion control of all Xbox and media functions with accuracy that surpasses even Apple’s Siri.

As much as I love my Apple TV, I find myself using my Xbox more and more for media streaming for the simple reason that I’m already there playing my games; and as excited as I am to see what Apple may have in store for televisions and what Google may do with its connected boxes, Xbox is already there–with voice and gesture control to boot. The battle for your living room is still being waged–but surprisingly enough, it’s shaping up to be Microsoft’s battle to lose.

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