One box to rule them all?

I’ve just been reading the latest blog by Rory Cellan-Jones (the BBC’s Technology correspondent, in which he talks about Microsoft (Xbox One) and Sony’s (Playstation 4) attempts to give us “the all-purpose device that will give us all the entertainment we need” – one box to rule them all indeed. But I think he’s missed one crucial issue; the problem lies in the massive choice we have…

In the UK, most of us receive our TV from either FreeView, FreeSat, Sky, Virgin or BT; in addition we could be receiving subscription moves over the internet from Amazon (LoveFilm), Netflix, Tesco (blinkbox), and any number of free on-demand TV packages (BBC iPlayer, itvPlayer, 4OD etc). Each of these use different formats, and payment options; and that’s just for the UK market. Clearly if you want to create a true media centre, that’s a lot of systems to integrate with; but if you did manage it, it’s only logical that they would want to expand this into the Smart Home market. We’re already got XBox’s ordering pizza and Playstation’s showing the weather forecast, so it’s not a huge leap of faith to believe that these manufactures would start looking for other markets to enter (could the Playstation 5 come with a ZigBee controller?). But if you also wanted to integrate with the rest of the house you would also need to talk to RSS and other data feeds, multiple automation protocols (X10 / Z-Wave / ZigBee), the combinations are endless.

Clearly a company like Microsoft or Sony would be much more likely to target a small number of providers and promote them (hoping they can encourage the market to come to them). But are customers prepared to lose functionality (or channels) to give a supplier an easy ride?

But I think the biggest barrier to adoption is the fact that both consoles are closed systems. If you look at the popular smart home / media centre projects (XBMC, Vera, OpenHAB), they all rely on developers contributing code and writing plugins that expand the core platform. Both Sony and Microsoft have made it quite clear that they will control any code being deployed to their consoles – and this isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

So will we ever get a single box running a house? Probably not, or at least not in the next ten years. There is a lot of work to be done first, and until we start building “standardised” houses, this will have to be done by the indi-developers and DIY experts, not the likes of Microsoft or Sony.

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