In May of last year, when Microsoft first unveiled the Xbox One, they made grand, lofty promises. Here was the console that would change the way we watch TV, revolutionizing all things NFL and enhancing our football Sundays forever and ever.
Today… well, today we're not quite there yet. Yesterday I used an Xbox One to watch football, snapping the NFL app to the side of my TV as I sat through the early games and waited for the Jets to figure out how to let me down. And, sadly, the app isn't very revolutionary, nor will it change how I watch NFL games in the future.
Though I can see the raw potential in Microsoft's ambitious initiative, the service as it is right now is half-baked and not very useful. In fact, it's something of a detriment, taking up valuable screen space and distracting from the beautiful, violent game of strategy that is professional football.
But I have faith that a supplemental service like this could be really smart and useful one day, if Microsoft and the NFL work to fix it. Let's go over some improvements Microsoft could add to make the Xbox One NFL application feel like more of a must-have.
This one's a head-scratcher: the Xbox's NFL app lets you check game scores, but as far as I can tell, there's no way to look at individual player stats or even check where a team is positioned on the field at any given time. The whole thing pales in comparison to some of the more intricate stat services, like Yahoo's Live Tracker, where you can go through individual players and even see an illustrated depiction of every play during every single game. Any NFL app that expects our time and dedication would do well to at least offer box scores so we can see who's scoring and when.
Speaking of Yahoo...
Do you use NFL.com or CBS for fantasy football? Rad! You get to use the Xbox One's NFL app. Sadly, since all of my fantasy teams are on Yahoo, I can't. I don't know why one of the biggest fantasy football websites still isn't supported, and though Microsoft did promise that Yahoo will show up eventually, right now this is a glaring hole for hardcore fantasy football players that don't use NFL.com or CBS.
The NFL app has a section for highlighted plays, which is great! You can scroll through crazy plays that are added and updated minutes after they happen in real time, and while you're watching one game live, it's neat to be able to see highlights from the other games too. Sadly, when you open one of these highlights while the NFL app is snapped on your TV, the audio will start playing… without muting the TV. So you'll hear both at once, a beautiful, horrible cacophony of loud NFL announcers with Hot Takes on the latest Football Highlights.
As far as I can tell there's no way to mute just one of these volume channels, other than going back through the Xbox One's menus and playing with your settings (and consequently missing the football you're supposed to be watching).
I mean, come on: this Sunday during the early games, I couldn't even keep track of all of the scores without scrolling down on the NFL app. This seems like such an easy fix.
NFL RedZone—also known as mankind's greatest invention—is a channel that switches between every single Sunday football game, broadcasting for seven hours straight to show every touchdown and big play without a single commercial. Thanks to the brilliant wizardry of RedZone host Scott Hanson, it's easy to get a sense of exactly what's happening during all of the games. This essentially renders the Xbox One NFL app pointless—right now, the Xbox doesn't offer anything that we can't already watch on RedZone.
Granted, RedZone isn't free, so this won't be applicable to everyone, but Microsoft and the NFL would do well to make an app that works alongside one of football's premier channels.
And now we get to the Xbox NFL app's biggest flaw: it doesn't do anything that a laptop or tablet can't do better.
When we first heard about the Xbox One's HDMI In port, which would let users filter their TV streams through the console for potential overlays and interactions, the vision was alluring. Imagine, say, an NFL game where you the viewer could interact with your Xbox One and switch camera angles when you wanted to get a different glimpse of any given play, or put highlights on the screen so you could keep track of specific players during any given snap. Wouldn't that be tremendous? Wouldn't that make the Xbox One a must-own for football fans?
Sadly, as Stephen pointed out last year when we first got a glimpse of this NFL app, there's nothing like this even remotely in place yet. Right now, the Xbox just takes your TV feed, puts an overlay on top of it, and spits it right back out at you. There's no interaction, no integration. It feels vestigial. And unless they make some major changes, it's all pretty damn pointless for now.