The New Xbox Media Remote
Last year Microsoft released a new Xbox 360 Media Remote with several changes beyond the new piano black color scheme. In addition to adding IR codes for more TV manufacturers, Microsoft has also tweaked the layout of the remote. This review covers the changes made to the remote and how it improves the usability within Media Center on an Xbox.
The physical dimensions of the remote are now smaller. The new remote is about half as thick, and about an inch shorter with a smooth glossy flat face. Unfortunately, the backlight has been removed. While the buttons are still rubber, they have been improved with a tactile click similar to an arcade button. The response to pressing a button can be both felt and heard. The new remote now takes a pair of AAA batteries, instead of the AA batteries of the old remote.
Several buttons have been removed from the new remote. The Open/Close, Title, Clear, Stop, TV, and “Green” buttons have all been completely removed. The Play and Pause buttons have been combined into a single button.
The removal of the TV button greatly simplifies the remote. It is no longer possible to accidentally change the channels on the TV, or power the TV off because the TV button was lit orange instead of green. It also means that somebody with a green/red color blindness will not have as much trouble turning on the TV and the Xbox.
Guide, Live TV, and Input buttons have been added to the remote. In truth, the Guide and Live TV buttons are just duplicates of the Y and A buttons. The two can be used interchangeably both inside Media Center and in the Xbox dashboard. The Input button used to be a function of the TV button but can now be used at any time to toggle the input of the TV.
The new locations of the buttons makes it easier to use the remote without looking. Playback control is located at the top of the remote with two horizontal rows of buttons. The directional pad is surrounded by the Guide, Record, Info, Live TV, and Back buttons. The new arrangement makes it easy to pull up the guide, select a program, record it, and then return to the previous task.
The volume, channel, and Mute buttons remain in the same place. The number pad remains the same, and T9 text input is still possible even though it is not labeled. A Last button does not seem to have any useful function in Media Center or in the Xbox dashboard.
Despite Microsoft’s complete lack of mention for Media Center in the remote’s documentation, this new remote makes using an Xbox as an extender much easier. The loss of the backlight is mitigated by the fact that the remote is so easy to use without looking at it, and sacrificing the “green” button for Media Center makes the overall experience more intuitive and consistent.
There’s been a lot of speculation and debate about Microsoft’s move to eliminate the green button, but in some ways, that decision improves the remote.
First off, the green button was a questionable universal start point. The logo, while familiar to Media Center users, is not widely recognized when compared to the common symbols for Play, Pause, and Stop. The color green can be difficult for someone with a color vision deficiency, and the green button on the old remote was tiny and reflective, so it could be hard to recognize in shape, color, and function.
With fewer feature-specific commands on the remote, users can expect a more consistent experience across features and services on the Xbox. Whether it’s a music service, a social app, or a video on demand service, hitting the back button several times will get you back to the main screen. It also eliminates possibility of hitting the Green button by mistake and jumping out of the Xbox Dashboard into Media Center.
By eliminating the green button, Microsoft also limits the commands they need to support in the future. For example, if Media Center were to get Kinect support through the Xbox, the Green button wouldn’t have to be implemented. With fewer Kinect commands represented as distinct gestures, there’s less chance of misinterpreting users’ gestures and intent.
Microsoft has also moved the Back button from the more common upper-left corner of the direction pad to the bottom right corner. This change also makes sense to me. Upper left is where the eye goes to start reading something, and the lower right is where it ends and the page needs to be turned. And with the button on the lower right, a right-handed thumb has to bend and retreat in order to press it. This requires more thought and intentional movement.
My bottom line: While I can understand how Microsoft’s decision to change the Xbox remote might annoy some people, I highly recommend the new Xbox 360 Media Remote to anyone using an Xbox as a Media Center Extender.
The removal of the Start button in Windows 8 and the removal of the Green button might speak to a larger philosophical change at Microsoft. On Entertainment 2.0, Richard has suggested that removing the Start button from Windows 8 will mean training manuals and classes will have to be retooled in the corporate environment. Arguably, it’s better to make changes to Media Center while the user base is relatively small. Perhaps the elimination of the Green button might be a signal that Microsoft expects Media Center to grow!