Xbox One Media Remote
By Will Greenwald
Microsoft designed the Xbox One to be an all-encompassing media hub, and it succeeded. The Xbox One supports plenty of online services and apps, has a handy OneGuide feature that ties those apps and live television together, and can even directly control your cable box and HDTV. It just hasn't had a real remote control until now. Before, your choices were using the gamepad, Kinect voice controls, or an accessory like the Logitech Harmony Smart Keyboard to navigate menus and play your favorite media. Now Microsoft offers its own take on the conventional remote control with the $24.99 Xbox One Media Remote, an elegantly designed, functional infrared controller for the Xbox One-and with a few small quirks, it does the job exactly as intended.
DesignThe Xbox One Media Remote is possibly the most elegant membrane remote I've ever used, edging out even the aluminum-backed one that comes with the Harman Kardon SB 35 Sabre soundbar. It looks and feels like a stylish, more complex version of the Roku 2's remote than anything else. It's a 4.9-inch black candy bar of a remote with a rounded bottom edge and a nearly completely flat top. The membrane buttons are completely flat, backlit (activated by motion), and covered in the same soft-touch matte rubber that encases the device.
You can't use the remote to control games, but the buttons cover all of your media playback and most of your control needs. The membrane buttons include playback, volume, and channel controls, plus Back, Menu, View, and OneGuide buttons. Those four Xbox One-specific controls frame a recessed direction pad with a prominent confirm button in the middle. Finally, a silver-when-unlit, glowing-when-lit Xbox button on top brings up the Xbox One's home screen and can manually turn the console on or off.
ControlsThe volume and channel controls indirectly control your HDTV or cable box through the Kinect. The Xbox One receives the remote's infrared commands, and the Kinect sends out the appropriate infrared commands to your screen and set-top box-assuming you already set up your Xbox One to work with them. It's a very handy feature, particularly the volume control, and you don't need to set up anything using the remote itself. If you use your other HDTV sources for anything, though, you'll need to keep your HDTV's remote on hand to switch to the Xbox One source. A programmable source toggle would have made the remote and Kinect voice commands more functional for users with multiple game systems.
Because it's an infrared remote and doesn't show up as a paired controller (like the Sony PlayStation 3's Bluetooth Blu-ray remote), the Xbox One Media Remote has a few minor disadvantages over the gamepad. Most obviously, you need line of sight to the Xbox One to use the remote. Curiously, the Kinect doesn't pick up infrared commands (though it does send them to the HDTV). You need to point the remote at the Xbox One itself. This is a minor inconvenience, especially if you keep your console tucked away.
App Support and YouTubeThe infrared controls work fine with Microsoft-developed Xbox One apps like the Blu-ray player or OneGuide. Most third-party apps aren't a problem either; the remote worked fine with Hulu Plus, Netflix, Twitch, Machinima, and even FOX Now. But in YouTube, once a video starts playing, you can pause it and control playback with the remote, but you can't navigate the menus. The Xbox One's YouTube app also notably lacks Kinect voice control support for browsing videos (though the voice playback control commands still work), and it doesn't integrate into OneGuide like the other apps, either. These are issues YouTube will have to fix, but you should be aware of them if you want to watch Web videos on the Xbox One.
If you use your Xbox One as your home entertainment hub and don't keep it hidden in a cabinet, the Xbox One Media Remote is a must-have accessory. It doesn't work well with YouTube, and you need line of sight with the console, but it otherwise strikes the ideal balance of gamepad power and Kinect voice convenience. It's surprisingly attractive, accessible, and functional. And it's priced at only $25, making it an excellent remote for all your non-gaming (and non-YouTube) Xbox One entertainment needs.