Long time no see world! It’s been quite some time since I graced the world with my presence. Well I’m back and I’m ready to kick more ass than a person whose bestie got cheated on. I’m about to blow your mind harder than a donkey kicking some poor soul in the head. Now in previous iterations of this blog series I have covered various assertive technologies. Now to those who are new to my blogs or those who are new to the subject or need a refresher, assistive technology is any piece of equipment whether it be technical or bare bones that eases the life of someone with a disability or an impairment of any varying degree. For some, that may be an augmentative communication device, or others it maybe something as simple a program that increases the size of text, for another it may be a robotic arm that allows a fellow colleague of yours to feed themselves for the first time ever but we’ll get to that latter one in a future blog post on the subject. What ever it may be, it is designed with the purpose of making tasks that were once difficult or even down right impossible somewhat easier.
Now what makes assistive technology interesting is that while it can be anything I mentioned above, it can also come in the form of the devices we least expect to be used for such. Now many people who have a disability or impairment will list off all the places that are the most inaccessible. Hell, there are even webpages devoted to rating the accessibility of various train stations, restaurants, and other venues. One thing that people don’t stop to realize however is that the living room can be the most inaccessible place of them all. Most livings rooms will often look similar to mine, an entertainment shelf with a device for everything.
A Cable Box to pull in channels,
A DVD/BluRay Player for your movie collection (Sitting under the cable box),
A streaming box for watching netflix, hulu and other online video services,
And to control all of these lovely devices, let’s not for get all of the remotes you’ll amass on your journey,
And with all of the family members that come through and use these devices in different parts or the room, you’ll be lucky if you can keep track of all of these but in some instances they can be like a Taylor Swift song, THEY ARE NEVER EVER EVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER!!!!!!!
Now for the any man/woman this sometimes can get chaotic, especially when you have family members that aren’t as tech savvy as you. Trying to walk my parents through doing anything on this setup and having to explain the different remotes and what each one does and what button to press is kind of like teaching an octopus to tie a shoe. That ain’t happening no matter how detailed your explanations get. Now for someone with any sort of impairment or anything that makes even the simplest of tasks difficult, this sort of situation can be a nightmare especially when there are those who want to be on the bleeding edge of technology just like the rest of us. Now while there are devices that combine various experiences (Smart TVs with the ability to access netflix, BluRay Players that access these services, or internet connected cable boxes), they either don’t perform as well as they should or they simply don’t offer the flexibility they should as far as access goes. There are universal remotes out there but device compatibility across the brands can be iffy and some are harder to setup than others. They can also get really expensive and yet sometimes that don’t always solve the problem of accessibility but most importantly, streamlining the living room experience in a way that even a caveman can pick it up.
Now what if I told you that sometime last year, Microsoft stumbled upon the answer to that problem in one of the most creative ways yet? What if I told you that the answer to the problem of living room accessibility may lie in the one machine that your kids beg you for every year? What if I told you that a gaming console may hold the key to a problem for many?
The Xbox One
Surprised? I thought so. Those who watch a lot of TV especially during football season will have seen a commercial or two for this device. While it is a games console first, the machine bolsters a ton of features made with the intention of streamlining your living room experience and changing the way you access your entertainment. Now you’re probably scratching your head and wondering how a gaming console made by the same people who make your operating systems and word processors could possibly streamline the living room experience. Well first watch this video
Mind blown huh? Now I should note that everyone’s experiences will be different and will be based on a wide variety of factors that I will mention later in this post. Now you’re probably wondering how that box can do all of that. Well it turns out that this picture leaves out one very important component that you can buy in a bundle with this system.
The Kinect 2.0,
Now for those who aren’t gamers, the first iteration of the Kinect was a camera that attached itself to the Xbox One’s predecessor, the Xbox 360. The camera allowed the system to function using voice commands and various hand gestures in addition to being used in dancing games, fitness games, and other sports titles. While it was a good start and a great entry into the market, it didn’t hit all of the marks it should have. Microsoft took everything that was good about the first version while sorting out all that went wrong and bringing about a much better experience. Now the way the Kinect sensor works is that it has a built in mic that listens for those commands. You can even set the system so that it can turn on using these voice commands. The camera can even associate your image with your user account so that the moment you turn on the system you’ll already be signed in.
Now the next question you’re probably asking is how can you watch TV on this device? Does it function as a cablebox? I should note that this is NOT a stand alone cable box, it works in conjunction with your existing equipment. The picture below should offer a better explanation of how this all works.
There are two ports on the Xbox One, a port that goes from the system to your TV and an additional one that takes the picture from your cable box and sends it to your system. Your system interface then becomes an overlay for what’s currently being broadcast by your box as shown below.
You can also go full screen,
Entering in your television provider settings and zip code also allows for an overlay guide with built in twitter integration,
But wait, you’re probably going to ask me how you can change channels with your voice if the Xbox only takes the video/audio signal from your cable box? The Xbox One is built in with a database consisting of various cable boxes, TVs, and other devices that it can control. Essentially with the help if the Kinect sensor your system can function as a giant universal remote. that can control your TV and cable box and even an external home theater system. It can even adjust the volume all with voice commands. When you first start the system you will be greeted with a setup process that will walk you through the process of pairing your system with your TV and cable box. You can ditch that Blu Ray player because there’s one built into the system and that other device you have for netflix and Hulu, there are apps for those in the console in addition to other streaming apps, even pandora and skype (that’s right, you can skype your family members from the comfort of your living room). Your living room entertainment can now be accessed from one box.
Now I should note that there are people who don’t pay for cable and therefore rely on an antenna to get their programming and I don’t blame them. As you know, antennas go straight to most HD TVs but as of yet there isn’t a solution for connecting one straight to the Xbox, at least in the US. For those of your in this situation I recommend the Homework HW-180TSTB which can be found on amazon for $30 and can work with your existing antennas. I’m aware that other boxes like this exist in stores and could even be lying around your house but a lot of them lack the HDMI input required to plug the box into the Xbox One. An amazon link can be found by clicking on the picture below,
As shown in the above video, you can navigate a bulk of the system features with your voice pending you got the system that comes bundled with the Kinect Sensor. By saying “Xbox”, the system will go into a listening mode where it can receive various voice commands like going to the home screen, launching apps, changing TV channels, changing the volume, and even pausing movies. The speed and accuracy at which these commands are processed depend on the noise level in the room and the speed at which you say them. Channel changing speeds can depend on what type of box the system is paired with and how fast the sensor can communicate with the device. On my setup, the whole process takes three seconds so it isn’t too bad and for the most part it works but what about those who have trouble projecting their voice or lack any amplifiers that can be placed near the Kinect mic or can’t annunciate words correctly? Thats where gestures come in.
There are a wide variety of gestures used for navigating the system. Gesture mode can be accessed simply by raising either hand. They can take some time to get a hang of but once grasped, these gestures can make system navigation relatively easy. But what about those who have trouble doing gestures or even have trouble with the voice commands? Don’t you worry, Microsoft didn’t leave you in the dust. Do you have a smartphone or tablet with either android, or iOS? Well Microsoft has you covered.
Xbox Smartglass is a free app that can be used to control your device over an internet connection. All the system navigation that can be done on the screen with your voice, gestures, or a controller can also be done using your tablet as shown below,
In conjunction with your tablet’s accessibility features, controlling the system has never been easier. As far as finding your apps, your most recent apps will be shown on the home screen of the system,
And for those who want shortcuts, much like windows 8 you can make pins off to the side,
Now those who use windows 8 will probably notice some aesthetic similarities. The OS that powers this system uses a modified version of windows 8.
With the Xbox One, accessing your living room has never been easier. From reducing the number of devices to eliminating remotes as well as providing multiple ways control your entertainment, Microsoft seeks out to do what many others, even Apple have failed to do and make it easy to access all of your entertainment from one place. While there are things that need some work like the accuracy of the voice commands, the system’s ability to understand how you speak and the ability of the system to filter your voice in a chaotic room. Microsoft is definitely on the right track to improving living room accessibility. While the Xbox One may not be the answer to everyone’s problems, it will definitely help out a large population of people who for a while have had problems controlling their entertainment devices. Hopefully this blog post has been helpful to any technology professionals looking to help clients or even those who want to make their living room life a bit easier. Once again the pleasure has been mine, stay classy folks.