xbox one 2

SmartGlass, until now, has been something of an also-ran feature for the Xbox One. Yeah, it was there, and it was kind of cool, but Microsoft just does not seem to have done anything with it. That, however, was before they announced some upgrades that will make it highly useful for cable fans and DVR owners. Here’s what you need to know.

1. It’s Essentially The Universal Remote You Always Wanted.

You’ve probably seen high-end universal remotes at television stores and high-end electronics shops. They’re $200, absurdly elaborate, and studded with buttons. Almost nobody can justify buying one, either, because it’s such a limited-use item that you either need to be rich beyond belief or an utterly obsessed home theater enthusiast. Usually both.

This update will essentially bring that functionality to your phone, through SmartGlass. Finally, you can live your dreams of having too much money and audio-visual equipment!

2. It Uses Any Smart Device.

Keeping with the idea that you can bring your own phone to the ecosystem, pretty much anything with a touchscreen will work with the Xbox One with this feature, as long as it can use the SmartGlass app. So, really, the systems everybody uses are covered. If you have a touchscreen BlackBerry we just don’t know what we can say to you.

3. It Puts The Channels You Like Up Front.

One very likeable feature, and cribbed somewhat from Nintendo’s TV initiative, is the fact that you can set up the channels you actually want to watch on your remote. Just configure it to put AMC or Discovery or The Lithuanian Chainsaw Juggling Channel at the top of your picks, and you can jump to that channel with a single button. It makes a lot more sense than popping out some guide, scrolling through it to remember the channel number, and then selecting that.

4. But You’ll Also Still Have A Guide.

Don’t worry, though. The quite useful OneGuide feature isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s getting something of an upgrade, in that you’ll be able to use it on your phone and tablet. That’s actually a pretty effective tool, and it also means that you’ll be able to change channels by poking at a screen. The future is here!


5. That Said, It Could Be Better.

While the Xbox One has synced quite well with your DVR, unfortunately, that doesn’t get an upgrade here. It would have been nice to have a OneGuide-like tool to go through what you’ve recorded, but apparently that wasn’t in the cards. You can at least view a list of what you’ve recorded, and play it back via SmartGlass, so that at least is a useful feature.

And, needless to say, there’s still the fundamental problem that you need cable for most of this stuff to be useful. The Xbox One hasn’t really done a lot with streaming video, yet, and we’d like to get a better sense of what they’re planning on doing. But for now, at least, everything will be in one place when you want to just watch some cable.

Dan Seitz

Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.