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Windows 8 and Xbox: How to realize their hidden synergy

David Murphy | Jan. 25, 2013
The gaming PC and the living room game console have never been close friends. So PC gamers play their PC games, console gamers play their console games, and never the twain shall meet.

Play to Xbox

Windows 8's console capabilities aren't just limited to Xbox Live tweaks and virtual game controls. One of the more eye-catching benefits of the new friendship between Windows 8 and Xbox 360 is the ability to push content from your PC to your console in two different ways with very similar naming schemes. The first and most universal is the "Play to Xbox" option.

Assuming that you correctly set up your Xbox 360 and that it is seen as a functional, online device within Windows 8, you'll be granted the option to stream media from your PC directly to your console. One way to do this is by opening up your Windows 8 Music or Video app, right-clicking the file you want to stream, and then selecting "Play to" in the options bar at the bottom of the screen. Doing so will open the Charms bar, where you can select your Xbox 360 console (or any other certified "Play to" DLNA receiver, for that matter).

However, I've encountered the occasional finicky issue when trying to get Music or Video to recognize that my Xbox 360 exists. Even worse--if you'll allow this humble writer to get personal for a moment--Music and Video are horrible apps for multimedia unless you're on a touchscreen device. Horrible. Instead, I find it easier simply to click on a movie or a song within Windows 8's File Explorer, open up the new "Play" context menu in the Ribbon-style file menu, and select the "Play To" option to stream media directly over to the Xbox 360.

The media file should start on your console right away, and Play to Xbox functions as any other streaming media solution does--both the console and your Windows 8 device have to be up, running, and connected to your network to successfully stream music or movies. The second streaming solution baked into Windows 8, Play on Xbox, is much more interesting.

Play on Xbox

Rather than streaming media directly from your Windows 8 device to your console, the Play on Xbox function takes advantage of the cloud backbone powering Microsoft's media offerings to stream music, movies, and TV shows directly from the Net to your console.

Meanwhile, as your chosen file is playing on the boob tube, Xbox SmartGlass automatically pops up on your Windows PC or tablet and offers the app's virtual controls and--if available--"second screen" information and options for the title. It's all pretty seamless and handy-dandy. Even better, you can use SmartGlass to swap the stream between your console and your Windows 8 PC or tablet at the push of a button, and when you change devices, videos pick up right where you left off on the other device.


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