Theres an app for that
Remember those early days of the Xbox 360, where Microsoft executives would talk up a future where the console would become the central entertainment hub in your home? I, and many others, scoffed that game hardware would ever be used for anything beside, duh, playing games. Cut to today, where Im just as likely to use my Xbox One for Hulu as Halo.
Microsofts current hardware is chockablock with apps, to the point where sorting through everything can be a bit of hassle. Seriously, who can choose between four different viral video sharing apps? If youre overwhelmed by choice or trying to weigh PS4 vs. Xbox One (opens in new tab), then this will go a long way to clearing up your confusion.
What is it? Im assuming you know what this is, because the streaming service is one of the most prevalent things in western culture. Originally a service for renting DVDs by mail, Netflix began streaming on game consoles back in 2009, and systems like Xbox One are now where many people use the service. With tens of thousands of films, TV shows, and other specials, Netflix is currently the gold standard in wasting your free time.
Why install it? Statistically speaking, youre likely one of Netflixs 60 million-ish subscribers, so you may as well put it on another device. However, if youve yet to adopt, you should know that Netflixs astonishingly deep catalog grows each month, and includes a growing amount of prestigious original content, like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. And all that looks better streaming through your Xbox One than it does on your phone, so get this app ASAP.
Amazon Instant Video
What is it? Since 2011, gargantuan retailer Amazon has been playing the unlikely underdog to Netflix in the realm of streaming stuff to your TV. Amazon Instant Video is part of the premium Prime membership, meaning $99 a year nets you free shipping as well as film streaming, all for around the same price as a year of Netflix. Meaning you could get cheap same day shipping on popcorn, then eat it while watching Groundhog Day on the couch that night!
Why install it? For a time, Amazon Instant Video offered a smaller collection of basically the same content as Netflix, but no longer. Instant now has a steadily growing set of exclusives, including the Emmy-winning Transparent, many great shows from networks like FX and Comedy Central, and virtually every HBO series prior to 2010 - meaning The Wire and The Sopranos are included, but no Game of Thrones yet. If youre looking for streaming with a slightly different flavor than Netflix, Amazon Instant has become that.
What is it? A home media streaming service that goes the extra mile by cleverly turning all the suspiciously badly labelled video files on your computer into an easy-to-navigate, Netflix-like library. Sign up, set up the DLNA service on your Xbox One (easy if you use Windows 8, slightly harder otherwise) and you're away.
Why install it? Aside from the simple future-pleasure of pressing a button on your Xbox to make video files fly from your computer through your house and onto the TV, Plex is a magnificently made service, and a neat alternative to rooting through 10 other streaming apps to get the show or movie you want.
What is it? Based on the viewing patterns of my friends and I, people are using streaming just as much for TV as for movies. The only downside is Netflix, Amazon, and others can sometimes be a year behind whats currently airing on the big networks. If you want to see the newest stuff, Hulu+ is your gateway to immediate satisfaction, hosting new episodes of many of the biggest hits the day after theyre broadcast.
Why install it? You get a monthly subscription to Hulu Plus for fast access to shows like Gotham, The Daily Show, The Voice, and dozens more that you wont find on the other services. Hulu Plus also made waves last year by getting exclusive streaming rights to every season of South Park, one of my favorite timekillers. If you prefer something highbrow, more than 100 films from the prestigious Criterion Collection are available, a highly underrated feature of Hulus. Though it might not have the big budget originals of Netflix or Amazon, Hulu Plus is at least putting in the effort to be distinct.
What is it? Watching anime before the prevalence of broadband internet feels so primitive now. Youd wait months or years for a series to be brought over from Japan, and youd buy a few episodes at a time for $30 a DVD. Now everything gets pirated almost immediately after airing in Tokyos time zone, which has devastated the overseas anime market. Crunchyroll looks to reverse that trend with dependable HD simulcasts of the newest series, without all the hassle and illegality of piracy. And you can have that on your Xbox One right now.
Why install it? Even for lapsed anime fans, theres a great selection of shows, including hits like Naruto and One Piece, as well as rising stars like Attack on Titan and Kill la Kill. And many of them have new shows broadcast within hours of airing in Japan. Beyond that, Crunchyrolls library is impressively large, though it can be a little hard to parse without substantial familiarity with the medium. But exploring the content is easy enough, especially when, unlike Hulu+, Crunchyroll is a completely ad-free experience.
What is it? All your friends cant stop talking about Game of Thrones, so you signed up for HBO to be part of the conversation. But why would you want to watch it on your cable box on the rigid network schedule? You want to watch all that premium network has to offer, and you want to see it whenever you feel like it on your Xbox One. Thats what HBO Go is for.
Why install it? The cursed existence of HBO Go is that it does indeed allow you to stream nearly everything the premium cable network has, up to and including the newest episodes of GoT and Girls, but for a price. Specifically, you have to have a cable subscription that includes HBO, a tactic that doesnt make sense for Xbox One owners out to cut the cord with cable companies. But until HBO eventually launches its fully standalone service, HBO Go is the simplest way to sample the channels prestigious wares on a console.
Comedy Central, ESPN, and many other channels
What is it? HBO Go is the king of standalone network apps, but its hardly the only one. Comedy Central, Fox, ABC, MTV, ESPN, and more all have dedicated apps on Xbox One. They work as fairly straightforward hubs for each channels biggest shows, along with some stuff thats exclusive to the app. Most are tied to a cable service, so if you already have the channels, you have access to the apps.
Why install it? If youre still paying for cable service, you may as well get these, because itll be easier to find the shows here than on the live channels. And occasionally these channel-specific apps offer something even deeper, like with FXNow. Within that app is Simpsons World, the collection of every single episode of the show, all streamable at once. I grew up taping every new Simpsons on a VCR, so a future where hundreds of episodes are available in seconds would be too beautiful to imagine 20 years ago. To quote Jasper, What a time to be alive.
The NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA apps
What is it? What if you arent in the mood for fiction, no matter if it stars elves, anime teens, or Kevin Spacey talking to the audience? What if you want to experience real life, where people work and train hard to compete with the greatest athletes alive? Then youll want the equivalent Xbox One app to your favorite sport, be it football, baseball, hockey, or basketball.
Why install it? Youve got to get a steady fix of all your favorite teams, and you need it live. Xbox One has it all, but organized sports is a billion dollar industry, meaning it doesnt come cheap. Access to each league can cost over $100 apiece, and it comes with tons of pesky restrictions. For example, almost all only offer out-of-market games, meaning you cant see live action of your local team. Youll be similarly blocked from most championship games too. Its all a bit frustrating for fans, but if youre one of the hardcore, no price is too high.
What is it? However, if you like to see athleticism but prefer the matches predetermined and with a little more trash talking, you have other options. When it comes to sports entertainment, few offer as much as WWE, the undisputed leader in pro wrestling. The WWE Network is now the home for all the companys newest ventures, opening up a world of grappling to every Xbox One owner.
Why install it? For $9.99 a month, you get to see every monthly pay-per-view event, weekly shows like NXT and Superstars, and thousands of hours of archival footage that even the most dedicated WWE fan has likely never seen. You can read more about it right here (opens in new tab). The short version is that, if youve ever enjoyed action-packed dramatics of Raw, you should at least give this a try for a month.