Watching Gravity on Xbox Video

I don’t own any movies on DVD or Blu-ray. None at all. I gave up on DVD at the same time I stopped buying CDs, and I have never been interested in getting myself a Blu-ray player for movies either.

Most of the movies I watch are on Netflix, but once in a while a new movie comes along that I want to watch as soon as I can. In previous years there weren’t any decent (legal) ways to do this, but these days there are a number of options for getting movies online.

As a happy user of Xbox Music, I thought I’d give Xbox Video a try.

Xbox Video

Xbox Video is a streaming video service that lets you either rent or purchase movies, and watch them directly on your Xbox, Windows device or in a web browser.

The only video I’ve purchased on Xbox Video previously was Mean Girls – but that’s a 10 year old movie and didn’t include any of the fancy extras you get with SmartGlass.

When Gravity became available I purchased the HD version for £14.99. Because it’s purchased, rather than rented, I can watch it as many times as I want, including the SmartGlass extras.

Gravity

In Gravity, Dr. Ryan Stone is a mission specialist on a Space Shuttle mission to Hubble, when an accident causes the rest of the crew to perish.

In a slightly unrealistic-but-more-realistic-than-most-movies turn of events she finds herself at the International Space Station, then to a Chinese Space Station in an attempt to get back home.

SmartGlass on Windows Phone

Through Xbox SmartGlass you get access to special content – which I believe is also included on the Blu-ray release. I have the option of accessing the extras through either my Windows Phone, or my Surface tablet. There are also apps available for both iOS and Android too, but I don’t have either of those devices.

My favourite part of the extra content was actually the video short, however I couldn’t get it to play full screen for some reason. Bit of a shame.

Xbox SmartGlass

In “Aningaaq”, we see the other end of the radio conversation that Stone has while in the Russian space craft. Aninqaaq, a fisherman in Greenland, is also dealing with death in his own way. This time we are provided with a translation for his side of the conversation, which is a great little extra to the movie.

Overall the Xbox SmartGlass experience was good, and more interesting when I watched the movie for the second time. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a movie specifically for the extras before, and I’m not going to start – but it’s a good little bonus.

Gravity

Controlling the Xbox 360

There are a huge amount of different options for controlling the Xbox 360 console, and when I got mine I had a little think about what ways I’d like to use it.

Xbox 360 Wireless Controller and Chatpad

Obviously the default way of using an Xbox is with the usual wireless controller. I’ve had a few different ones over the years, but I’m currently using a full black one that came with the console as standard, as well as the black chat pad. There are other versions of the controller, including wired and the transforming D-pad. (Though the transforming D-pad doesn’t come in black.)

The Chatpad itself was marketed for enabling Messenger integration into the Xbox experience, though for me it’s mostly just for general text input, standard Xbox Live messages and searching. Personally I wouldn’t want to give it up now, and I’d recommend one to anyone with an Xbox 360.

Xbox 360 Media Remote

One of the things that really sold me on the Media Remote is the way it can control many types of television, which means I don’t need to have two remotes on the coffee table. I can switch on the Xbox and launch various applications, including apps like iPlayer and Lovefilm without having to touch the controller – in fact sometimes I don’t touch the controller at all (unless I’m doing text input with the Chatpad!)

The remote includes the usual coloured YXAB face buttons, a guide button, and plenty of media controls including play/pause and fast forward/rewind as well as ones more geared towards live television, which I know is supported by Sky in the UK and many other providers in the US.

Xbox Companion for Windows Phone

An interesting addition to the Xbox is using a companion app from either Windows 8 or Windows Phone. I might write about this separately, but I would just add that I have often used this app, mostly for changing music on Zune while I’m in another room. Handy!

What else?

One of the things I didn’t bother getting is the Kinect, it may be something I want in the future, but right now I just don’t think it’s that important. some of the voice stuff at E3 2012 was pretty cool, but not enough to make me change my mind.

I am very interested in Xbox SmartGlass though, and as soon as I get myself a Windows RT tablet I’ll be sure to write about it.

Using the Xbox 360

I recently decided to get an Xbox 360 to replace my ageing desktop computer, and here are my initial thoughts after running with it for a couple of weeks.

Music and Video

The main reason I got the Xbox 360 is not for games, its primary purpose is to replace my old desktop computer with a new way to access entertainment:

  • Streaming music from my laptop using the built in Xbox media player
  • Zune Music and Video through Zune Pass
  • Lovefilm streaming for films and TV shows
  • iPlayer and 4oD for on demand television

Watching programs like Red Dwarf on Lovefilm has been very cool, as well as using Zune Pass to quickly find new albums and music videos. It’s generally a lot nicer to be able to run these entertainment experiences on the Xbox verses the PC.

Installing and Playing games

One of the things that the Xbox lets me do is install games directly onto the system – much like you can on a PC. This means that the software can load faster and the machine itself can be a lot quieter, as it does not need to spin up the optical media to load assets. I got the Xbox 360 256 GB * which is the newer Xbox 360 S design. This is already pretty quiet, so having a game installed like this makes the whole experience a lot nicer for a living room. As playing each game has its own personality, so I won’t be going into any at this point. In this case I’m going to focus on more of the interface and apps.

The ‘Metro’ Dashboard

Yup, Microsoft are making some amazing strides in their user interface unification. By crafting all of their major operating systems on the new Metro design language, they’re creating a consistent experience for users to interact with their electronics. The Xbox 360’s latest dashboard update included a large amount of these Metro principles – though I believe the transformation is not yet complete (at time of writing, naturally). This is due to the ‘Metro style‘ philosophy only going as far as the design language of the main home screen, most of the operating system is the same as it was before, including the pop-up ‘Blade style’ guide, to ‘NXE style’ menus.

Launching and running other Apps

Apps like Facebook and Twitter are lacking the integration that applications like Windows Phone and Windows 8 are capable of. You don’t notice so much with single tasked apps like iPlayer because the main focus is to single task – watching something. Social applications require more multitasking. I would love to see Facebook chat work like the Messenger integration, and the ability to pin apps (or deep links from apps) directly to the dashboard is a must.

* Note that they refer to the consoles by size now, rather than calling one Arcade or Elite like they did with the early Xbox 360 units. That’s better if you ask me.