Xbox One, Spotify and control of the living room TV

Josh Wein

The battle for control of the living room is on once again. Last week, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) made its latest, if not most aggressive, play to become the service and device through which all entertainment bound for your largest TV screen passes.

The Xbox One looks like an impressive device, and it will probably give the online video industry a boost in usage. Though it's designed to work with a traditional pay-TV set-top box, the Internet-delivered video experience seems much more elegant, based on what little information has been released about the device so far.

Still, Xbox One will not claim control of the TV set so easily. Sony's PS4 launch looms, cheaper streaming media device choices are abundant and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) AirPlay and technology like it seem better poised to create the kind of personalized media experience Microsoft and others are racing to provide.

In April 2007, months before Apple introduced its first generation iPhone, a very smart network engineer told me his theory of how personalized media would evolve over time. He predicted we would all soon be carrying what amounted to portable set-top boxes, wirelessly connected to pay-TV services, that could be placed in the vicinity of a TV screen and send media to the TV.

It sounded ridiculous at the time, but today the idea is not far from reality. Apple's AirPlay and Microsoft's SmartGlass are essentially offering versions this feature now. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) also has a version based on the DIAL technology it and Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) have developed. If and when the technology becomes more mainstream and interoperable--for instance, when I can use SmartGlass to control what I'm watching on my Apple TV or Roku--it has the potential to really catch on.

The music industry is already there. The Sherwood S-7300 receiver--circa 1974--on my bookshelf is connected to an Apple Airport Express that is hidden from view by a row of books. The device also acts as my home Wi-Fi router. When I listen to music, I open up Spotify on my iOS device and it plays through my receiver's speakers. When I want to listen to a baseball game (Let's go Bucs!), I tap MLB At Bat. When friends or family visit and want to play a song for me, they can easily connect their own device to the network and hit "play."

Video is next. Of course, no one today is doing for video what Spotify is doing for music. But if someone can step forward and aggregate access to the vast majority of video entertainment--a task many companies are attempting--it should not be long before the so-called second screen becomes the first screen.

And when that occurs, it will not matter what device is plugged into your TV set, as long as it can communicate easily with the device in your hand, the one in your lap or the one on your coffee table. -- Josh