When it first launched, the Xbox One's potential as a media device was very much a work in progress. Especially if you live outside the United States, for it was only on its home turf that the Xbox One's OneGuide feature worked, allowing you to use the Xbox to work with and control your TV set top box.
The recent Xbox One system update for Europe, though, has finally introduced the OneGuide to a number of European territories, including the UK.
Getting yourself rigged up with the OneGuide for this is pretty straightforward provided you have a
compatible set-top box. First you need to pipe your box into the Xbox One's HDMI input, then head into the Xbox One settings menu and choose the TV and OneGuide option.
From here you can tell your Xbox what TV service you'll be using - Freesat, Freeview, BT Vision, Virgin Media and Sky are all supported - and whether you want it to track your viewing history.
You can also clear/refresh the OneGuide's content, clear your viewing history, and state if you want the OneGuide to hide standard definition versions of channels available in HD.
The facility to have the Xbox monitor your viewing habits is there, of course, so that it can over time offer you an experience more tailored to your specific tastes, focussing on the sort of content you like the most.
Wide broadcaster support
The list of broadcasters supported is surprisingly long. From a UK perspective the key ones are BSkyB (HD and standard definition), BT Vision, Freesat, Freeview, and Virgin Media.
Once you've got the OneGuide set up, you can then opt to have the Xbox control whatever cable or satellite box you've got connected to it. Handily if you've already set up your TV provider the Xbox One will automatically select the most likely remote control code for your hardware, sending out a power off/on command to see if that works with your set-top box.
If it does then that's it; you're ready to use your set-top box with your console. If it doesn't, the console keeps cycling through on/off commands until it gets to one that works.
We tested the system with Sky, Virgin and Humax YouView/Freetime boxes without any issues, and Microsoft assures us that the vast majority of Freeview and Freesat set-top boxes will work with it too.
I was also pleased to see that the Xbox One can additionally take control of your audio receiver if you have one – a welcome touch given how closely integrated such a receiver may be with your video sources.
Refreshed refresh rates
Another key option now available in the Audio & Video subsection of the TV set-up menu that wasn't there at launch is Refresh rate. This defaults to 60Hz, but I strongly recommend you switch it to 50Hz if you don't want your pictures to suffer nasty judder.
Alongside this refresh rate choice is the option to choose stereo or surround sound audio.
Before finishing set up, it's worth heading into the Display & Sound setup menu and checking that you've got your TV resolution set to 1080p if you have a full HD set, that you've got the Allow 50Hz refresh rate box ticked, and that you've got the colour space set to TV if you're using it with a TV rather than a PC monitor.
Now you're all set up, what does the OneGuide bring to the table?
The OneGuide in action
Choose the TV app on the Xbox One homescreen to start watching, and your set top box's pictures immediately appear. Accessing the guide is then a simple case of either pressing the Menu button on the Xbox One gamepad, or if you've got a Kinect connected, saying "Xbox, Show Guide".
This calls up an electronic programme guide similar in basic appearance to that you get with digital TVs these days, with a vertically scrollable channel list down the left, and horizontally scrollable lists of current and upcoming programmes stretching off to the right.
Of course, as the Xbox One is passing through a direct signal from your box, you can also simply use the box's own remote control to look at its built-in EPG.
But highlight a programme in the OneGuide and you get a nice HD graphic from it, along with information about the show and, if it's a programme currently showing, a large green bar visualising how much of the programme has elapsed.
Choose a current programme from the listings and like magic your Xbox One will deliver the right channel number to your set-top box. Choose an upcoming programme, and a window pops up offering you the chance to rate the programme (worthwhile if you want the Xbox to more quickly learn your preferences), see Season Details information on the show you've selected, and see the available upcoming imminent showtimes for the episode you've selected.
In some cases there's also a Ways To Watch column, showing video streaming platforms carrying the programme you're interested in.
Some channels additionally provide a 'You May Also Like' section to the right of the showtimes list, highlighting three shows connected by genre or cast to the content you first selected.
You can select certain channels to be your favourites on the OneGuide too, to provide a streamlined listings experience.
As well as being able to select full TV Listings and Favourites, the OneGuide options screen lets you access 'App Channels'.
The options available here include YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, Xbox Video, Twitch, Wuaki.tv, EuroSport News, OneDrive, Machinima, the TED lecture channel, and even the Upload Studio where you've got stored your greatest Xbox gaming moments.
It's a bit puzzling that you only get some of the available on-demand content providers here – for instance, there's no Demand 5, no Netflix and no Blinkbox.
But it's good to see in this day and age the Xbox giving streaming apps more or less the same weight in its OneGuide interface as broadcast fare.
Considered overall, the OneGuide is really quite clever, giving you a much more 'joined up' content-finding experience than you could get with a typical set-top box EPG – especially the integration into the EPG of 'also likes' and alternative on-demand viewing options.