Microsoft's Xbox One has added a new feature for North American owners looking to expand their television viewing on the game console.
Starting Wednesday, members of the Xbox One Preview program in the US and Canada can buy an over-the-air TV tuner from Hauppauge and an HDTV antenna and start watching live television for free from their Xbox One. The over-the-air tuner Microsoft recommends -- the WinTV-955Q -- costs $80, plus the cost of an HDTV antenna. Microsoft says it will build an official Xbox One tuner with Hauppauge over the "next few months" that will retail for $60. Again, users would need an HDTV antenna in addition to the tuner. HDTV antennas can be purchased for as little as $40, or for much more, depending on the model.
Since the Xbox One's launch in 2013, Microsoft has tried to make the console an entertainment device that also provides gaming services. The Xbox One lets users plug a cable box in to the console and control their TV programming through the hardware. The Xbox One includes a TV programming guide for people who connect their cable box through the console, and the box can be controlled with an attached Kinect gaming sensor via voice commands.
In addition to supporting cable box integration, the Xbox One features a wide range of streaming apps -- including Netflix, Sling TV and others -- that let users watch programming over the Web.
Adding TV tuner functionality to the Xbox One provides another dimension for entertainment on the console. A TV tuner lets users view over-the-air television programming. Certain networks broadcast live programming "over the air" in addition to providing their programming to cable and satellite providers. Though many people access their content through those providers, it is possible, with a tuner, to nab a signal and watch their content for free over the air.
The feature essentially means users can watch programming for free over-the-air without having a subscription to Comcast or DirecTV. Tuners often come bundled with televisions or can be purchased separately to use a computer as a quasi-cable box.
Adding a tuner to the Xbox One brings Microsoft closer to making its console the central entertainment hub in the living room. So-called "cord cutters," or people who have abandoned their traditional TV subscriptions in favor of streaming services, are growing in number each day. By combining over-the-air content with subscriptions to the streaming services that the Xbox One offers, like Sling TV and Netflix, some folks will find they've lost little programming by cutting the cord.
The value of a TV tuner, however, is predicated on channel availability. Some areas have more over-the-air channels than others. Microsoft in its announcement pointed to a site, called Mohu, that allows users to input their ZIP codes and find out how many over-the-air channels are available. In my area, for instance, 22 channels are over-the-air and accessible, including prominent networks like CBS, ABC, PBS and NBC. Mohu also sells the HDTV antennas customers would need to buy to get HD access to programming on the Xbox One tuner.
According to Microsoft, once the over-the-air tuner is plugged in and connected to the Xbox One, users will be able to watch programming, see show listings and pause live television for up to 30 minutes. Users can also favorite channels.
Microsoft initially announced support for TV tuners on the Xbox One in August. At the time, the service was available only in the UK, France and other European countries. In addition to the US and Canada, Microsoft has expanded support to several other countries, bringing the total to 19.
"We're thrilled to be expanding our TV offerings, bringing TV tuners for over-the-air TV to a total 19 markets and helping gamers stay connected to their gameplay, even when they're watching TV," a Microsoft spokesperson said.